Presenter Information

Elizabeth Rapley


The early history of the Confraternities of Charity and the Daughters of Charity is recounted and placed within the context of seventeenth-century France’s religious trends and social needs. Care for poor persons was not the duty of priests or religious; it was the duty of the laity, necessary for their salvation. The most important part of charity was saving souls. Simple religious instruction and direct forms of care for the poor, such as nursing, fell in the domain of women. Since Daughters of Charity evolved from the Confraternities of Charity, the community was initially secular. Although the Daughters rapidly acquired religious rules, Vincent de Paul carefully ensured that their official status was not religious. If they became religious, they would be cloistered, and this would hinder their service to persons who were poor. Vincent’s ways of maintaining the Daughters’ secular status are described. The importance of placing the Daughters under the superior general’s direction is discussed. The development of the Daughters’ specialization in certain types of service is explained.