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The History of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America®
A Vincentian Family Story

The History of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America®:  A Vincentian Family Story begins with a Sunday sermon in 1617 given by St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), a priest at the small parish of Chatillon-les-Dombes in the Diocese of Lyons, France.  Fifty women are so moved by the dire needs of their neighbor and by Vincents stirring words, after church together they provide for the family needs.  Afterwards Vincent said "These good people are exercising great charity, but it not well regulated.  This poor family will have too many provisions at one time and some of them will be spoiled and wasted; in a short time these persons will be reduced to their former state of need.  Would it not be possible to convince these good women to give themselves to God to serve the poor permanently?" These ladies living in the 17th century say "Yes" to the call of St. Vincent de Paul.  Following the women´s collective "magnificent," Vincent takes steps toward canonization and a women´s organization which would last 400 years begins, undoubtedly forming other saints.

1617

On December 8 the Confraternities of Charity began by St. Vincent de Paul is canonically approved.  The first of the great foundations of the Vincentian family is laid.  The first lay women´s organization and the first social services agency in the world is established in order to serve Jesus in the person of the poor.  For the first time women are recognized as having a role in the Church and in society.  Ladies called to membership in the Confraternities of Charity are to be like Jesus, who came to serve rather than to be served, and are to serve those living in poverty with humility, simplicity, and charity.

1625

On December 8 the Confraternities of Charity began by St. Vincent de Paul is canonically approved.  The first of the great foundations of the Vincentian family is laid.  The first lay women´s organization and the first social services agency in the world is established in order to serve Jesus in the person of the poor.  For the first time women are recognized as having a role in the Church and in society.  Ladies called to membership in the Confraternities of Charity are to be like Jesus, who came to serve rather than to be served, and are to serve those living in poverty with humility, simplicity, and charity.

1629

St. Vincent de Paul invites St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660), a widow and mother who has taken on various leadership roles within her local Confraternity, to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France.  Through this work, she gains a deep knowledge of the needs of the poor, develops her innate management skills, and identifies effective structures for social services.

1633

In her own home St. Louise de Marillac begins to train young women to address the needs of poor persons and to gain support from their life together.  Louise organizes hospitals for the sick poor, asylums for the orphans, workshops for the unemployed, while championing literacy for the uneducated and establishing standards for local charities.  Through Louise de Marillac´s collaboration with Vincent de Paul concerning the Confraternities of Charity, the religious order of the Company of the Daughters of Charity emerges.  This is the first religious order for women whose charism, or work being called to, is beyond cloistered walls.  To ensure the continuation of this work beyond the cloister St. Vincent required annual vows.

1634-1651

The Confraternities of Charity for lay women (and some men groups) multiply in France, in Italy (1634), and then in Poland (1651).

1660

St. Vincent de Paul dies at age 79 and St. Louise de Marillac dies at age 68.  Calling to mind that the universal Church establishes feast days on the dates of deaths, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul is celebrated annually on September 27.  The annual feast day of St. Louis de Marillac is originally established as March 15h (the date of her death), but in 2016 was changed to May 9 (the date of her beatification).

1737

St. Vincent de Paul, who dedicated his life to serving the poor, is canonized by Pope Clement XII in Rome on June 16.  During the centuries that follow, inspired by his life, women´s groups around the world continue to form to serve the needs of others.  Some organize as the Confraternities of Charity, others as the Ladies of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul or simply as the Ladies of Charity, and more recently as the Vincentian Volunteers.

1789

The activities of the Confraternities of Charity are interrupted during the French Revolution.

1809

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the American foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph adapts the rule of the French Daughters of Charity for her Emmitsburg, Md. community.  Mother Seton´s sisters become the foundation stone of the Sisters of Charity in the United States.

1821

On January 4, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious community, dies at age 46.  She is canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope Pius VI.  Her annual feast day is celebrated by the universal Church on the anniversary of her death.

1830

St. Catherine Labouré begins her Seminary (novitiate) at the Daughters of Charity Motherhouse in the Rue du Bac in Paris.  It was there in the chapel on September 26, the eve of the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul, that after praying earnestly to St. Vincent that she might, with her own eyes, see the Mother of God, Catherine is blessed with the first apparition of Our Lady which leads to the Miraculous Medal, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee," and devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception.  Catherine had apparitions, but her holiness flowed from her ability to see Christ in daily life, especially in the poor.  Sr. Catherine spent 46 years of her life in humility and service of the elderly.  She was truly, as Pope Pius XII declared at the time of her canonization, "The Saint who lived a dutiful life and silent life!"

1834

Catherine O´Regan Harkins-Drake, the foundress of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States, is born in Cove, County Cork, Ireland.  After immigrating to the United States she is educated at St. Anns School in Pottsville, Pa., conducted by Mother Seton´s Sisters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Md.

1840

The Confraternities of Charity are reestablished in France and renew contact with other members of the association around the globe.

1845

Blessed Frederic Ozanam, along with other students, forms another world-wide Vincentian organization in Paris, the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

1853

Catherine O´Regan, the foundress of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States, marries Captain Hugh Harkins, a Mississippi steamboat owner, and begins married life in St. Louis, attending church at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish.

1854

On December 8, Pope Pius IX, defines the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the document Ineffabilis Deus, which leads to the establishment of the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception celebrated annually by the universal Church on December 8.  Be mindful of the strong Marian connection that the Ladies of Charity enjoy because on December 8 St. Vincent de Paul founded the Confraternities of Charity and also on this date the first Ladies of Charity association in the United States began.

1857

After experiencing several dreams indicating that St. Vincent de Paul was asking her to help neglected children, the twenty-three-year-old wife and mother Catherine Harkins, along with twelve other members at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis, under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Urban Gagnepain of the Congregation of the Mission, on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, forms the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States.  Catherine Harkins is elected as the first president.  Today, there is still an active Ladies of Charity association at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis.

1860

Fr. Urban Gagnepain of the Congregation of the Mission transfers to New Orleans.  He helps to organize with 22 founding members another association of the Ladies of Charity in St. Joseph Parish, New Orleans.  Also today there is an active Ladies of Charity association in New Orleans.  With the help of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, the Ladies of Charity movement begins to rapidly spread across the United States, but associations have limited contact.

1876

St. Catherine Labouré dies and is buried in a tomb under the chapel of the House of Reuilly in Paris.  When her body is exhumed for beatification in 1933, 57 years after her death, it is found "as fresh as the day it was buried."  Her incorrupt body is placed in a reliquary under Our Lady´s Altar at Rue du Bac and can still be seen today.  She is wearing the habit worn by the Daughters of Charity until 1964.

1884

After being widowed Catherine Harkins, the American foundress of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States marries Mr. Elmer Drake.

1909

During the nineteenth century in France and in Italy, many groups of young girls are engaged in various charitable works.  The organization of a Junior Confraternities of Charity branch is canonically recognized.

1911

Catherine Harkins, the American foundress of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States, dies at the age of 77.  Her published obituary noted, "Twice widowed, she raised three children, was a grandmother with 18 grandchildren and great grandmother, having four great grandchildren, yet maintaining a zeal in serving the neighbor."

1921

Because of the rapid growth of the Ladies of Charity movement which continues throughout the United States, Miss Marie Harkins, Catherine Harkin´s granddaughter, organizes the first meeting of the associations of the Ladies of Charity. For many years representatives of each association are invited to an annual meeting at Marillac Seminary in St. Louis.  The expressed hope was to form unity and build support among the various associations´ leadership and members.

1930

The first International Congress of Charity convenes for all Confraternities of Charity in Paris.  This is followed by another meeting in Budapest in 1935, but because of World War II another International Congress of Charity is not held until 1953.

1934

On March 11 St. Louise de Marillac, faithful wife, loving mother, effective social worker in the Confraternities of Charity and prudent religious foundress of the Daughters of Charity is canonized a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI.  In 1960, Pope John XXIII places before the world St. Louise de Marillac as the model for all Christian social workers.

1957

To celebrate the founding centennial of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States, 350 Ladies from 22 associations, as well as 20 Vincentian Priests and 50 Daughters of Charity, gather together in St. Louis, September 28 - 29.  There is decided collaboration among the members of the Vincentian Family.  Before the meeting concludes the Ladies vote unanimously to form a more lasting bond through a national organization.  A committee consisting of five members from various associations of the Ladies of Charity, two Vincentian Priests, and four Daughters of Charity are selected to make this dream a reality.

1957-1959

The committee formed to establish a national association of the Ladies of Charity continues to meet, formalizing the goals of a national organization:

  1. To serve as a bond between the Associations of the Ladies of Charity in the United States and the international Confraternities of Charity headquartered in Paris.
  2. To promote unity among the associations in the exercise of charity according to the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.
  3. To encourage the activities of the associations in existence and to assist in the organization of new ones.

1960

With legal assistance from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the interest and support of the Most Reverend Patrick O´Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., head of the U. S. Bishops´ Conference (USCCB), a constitution and bylaws for the Association of Ladies of Charity of the United States (ALCUS) are written and then approved by the bishops.  Monsignor John O´Grady, secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Charities NCCC), and Monsignor George H. Guilfoyle, president of NCCC, are instrumental in helping the various local associations organize into a national body paralleling Catholic Charities.  ALCUS organizes under five regions: Middle Atlantic, North Central, Northeastern, Southern, and Western, with St. Louis as the national headquarters.

1960

An assembly is convened at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City for the first time as the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) in conjunction with the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC), celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the special guest of honor.  The governing by-laws for ALCUS are read and ratified by delegates representing local associations.  The Most Rev. Leo C. Bryne is appointed the first Episcopal Chairman.  National board members and officers are elected and Diane Ruth Downey from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles association becomes the first President of ALCUS.

1960

As a means of communication and mutual sharing, a national publication called the Servicette is initiated, available by subscription.

1961

The Rt. Rev. Raymond J. Gallagher begins to serve as the first national Spiritual Advisor for the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS).

1962

The Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) gathers again nationally for an assembly with the National Conference of Catholic Charities and will continue to do so on even numbered years until 1998.

1963

Diane Ruth Downey, the first president of the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) journeys to Rome during the time of the Second Vatican Council and meets with Pope Paul VI during a private audience.  To strengthen Vincentian heritage, Mrs. Downey travels on to Paris to visit the international headquarters of the Confraternities of Charity.

1968

Sr. Mathilda Comstock, D.C. begins to serve as the Sister Moderator of the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) and will continue to do so until 1972.  To date, sixteen religious women belonging to the Daughters of Charity, or an order of the Sisters of Charity, have continued the strong bond of common Vincentian heritage by following Sr. Comstock in this role.

1971

Meeting in Rome, delegates of the Confraternities of Charity from 22 countries unite to reorganize and form the International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul (AIC).  A new constitution and bylaws are written and the international headquarters is moved to Belgium.  Seven members from the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) attend and play important roles in establishing acceptance of many of the policies.  Mrs. Fred N. Eckhardt is elected as the second vice-president of AIC, the first American to serve on the executive board.  From this time forward American Ladies of Charity have continued in elected leadership positions on the AIC executive board.  Today AIC is the source of information and guidance for the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America® (LCUSA) and represents their membership on the international level as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations; the United Nations Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the Council of Europe.  In 2016, the International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul (AIC) is active in 52 countries with over 200,000 local volunteers mostly women "working together against poverty."

1972-1978

The Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) continues to thrive as many new associations are added.

1975

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the American foundress of the Sisters of Charity is canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14th.  Her feast day in the universal Church is celebrated annually on January 4th.

1980

The International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul (AIC) publishes the Basic Document, a more flexible document than a constitution.  This document allows each locality around the world to develop its own style of service and commitment according to the basic model of Vincentian evangelization and service to people most in need.

1985

The Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) celebrates 25 years as a national organization.

1987

Rev. Richard Gielow, C.M. begins his role as Spiritual Advisor to the Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS).  Still serving today in this capacity, Fr. Gielow has faithfully guided the Ladies with his wisdom and strong sense of dedication to the Vincentian mission for thirty years.

1991

The Association of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (ALCUS) name is formally changed to the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA).  A short time later LCUSA becomes an affiliated organization of Catholic Charities of the United States of America (CCUSA) and the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW).  LCUSA maintains these relationships.

1998

The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) convenes a biennial meeting for the first time independent of Catholic Charities USA in Orlando, Fla. "The theme is Whatsoever You Do to the Least of Our Brethren."

1999

At the recommendation of Father Robert Maloney, C.M., Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, members of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) begin to participate annually in a meeting of Vincentian Family leaders (FAMVIM).  During these meetings, ideas and means of collaboration to make a more universal impact on the alleviation of poverty are discussed and initiated.  To learn more visit http://famvin.org/en.  In a gesture of cooperation, Fr. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Director of the Vincentian Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, accepts the archives of LCUSA.  Today, joined now with other archival material of the Vincentians, the history of LCUSA is available for research and study.

2000

The last biennial meeting for the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) is held in St. Louis.  Delegates amend the by-laws and institute an annual National Assembly.  As the result of a generous bequest from Diane Ruth Downey, the first national president, LCUSA adopts a new grant program focused on providing help to the children of the disadvantaged through a reading enrichment program.  As the new century unfolds, association members are challenged to re-embrace St. Vincent de Paul´s original model of service by working on hands on projects of "systemic change," to not only meet the needs of people living in poverty today, but to also imagine ways that will help people to improve and change lives their own lives in the future.

2001

The First National Assembly of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) convenes in Arlington, Va. with the chosen theme of and the Greatest of These is Love.

2003

The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) starts a national ongoing twinning project with the International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul (AIC) in Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa.

2005

The Board of Directors of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) implements an ongoing Strategic Plan consisting of six major goals for future growth and betterment of all affiliated associations.

2006

The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) receives a generous bequest from the Kathleen Hager estate and establishes a grant in her honor in order to assist local associations with their hands-on-work.  Miss Hager supported those in need throughout her life and continues to serve others even after her death by bequeathing her estate to those who serve the physical needs of the less fortunate.  Kathleen Hager was a member of St. Paul´s Cathedral Parish in the Pittsburgh Diocese and when being particularly happy she was fond of saying, "All this and heaven too."

2008

Collaboration by the Board of Directors of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) produces the mission statement "To provide Vincentian leadership to women acting together against all forms of poverty."

2009

The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) begins to award qualifying association members financial scholarships to attend the national assembly, and thirteen associations are recipients of the first distribution of the Kathleen Hager Grants.

2010

The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) celebrates the Golden Anniversary (50th) of becoming a national organization.  Efforts of the Ladies from 1985-2010 are gathered into a special golden anniversary booklet featuring essays recording the work of the national presidents.  The LCUSA Board of Directors formulates a vision statement to express where the organization is going: "LCUSA-AIC provides Vincentian leadership of transformation, assisting persons who are vulnerable to move from marginalization and despair to participation and hope."

2012

Free subscription to the Servicette is defined as a privilege for all LCUSA members.

2014

During the national assembly awards under a Junior Grant program for Junior Ladies of Charity (JLOC), modeled after the Kathleen Hager Grant, are distributed for the first time.  The Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) national headquarters moves from St. Louis to 850 Main Street in Kansas City, Mo., leasing office space in the Catholic Charities building of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph, Mo.

2015

Together organized as the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA), association members across the country contribute $3,324,634.79 in direct and in-kind charitable assistance and volunteer 1,261,568 hours of service with people in need.  LCUSA discontinues the Ruth Downing Grant Program as bequeathed funds have been fully dispersed.

2016

The International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul (AIC) announces a Jubilee Year from December 8, 2016 to December 10, 2017.  AIC requests that all Ladies of Charity associations world-wide celebrate Mass on or about December 8, or schedule a special prayer service, to re-consecrate members to the common Vincentian mission.

2017

On September 7-10th the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) gather in Kansas City, Mo. to celebrate the 400th Anniversary as Ladies of Charity - 400 years of "Yes" to the Call of St. Vincent de Paul.

2057

LCUSA will celebrate the Bicentenary Anniversary (200th) of the founding of the first association of the Ladies of Charity in the United States of America.

2060

LCUSA will celebrate the Centennial (100th) Anniversary of becoming a national organization.

History