Four hundred years of saying ‘yes’ to Christ in the poor

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. welcomes the Ladies of Charity to Kansas City for the 400th anniversary of their founding and annual national convention Sept. 7 at the Downtown Marriott Hotel. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The 400th anniversary celebration and annual national assembly of the Ladies of Charity USA was hosted by the Metropolitan Kansas City Ladies of Charity Association, Sept. 7 – 10 at the Downtown Marriott Hotel.

The Ladies of Charity began in the Diocese of Lyon, France in 1617. St. Vincent de Paul, serving as a parish priest in the diocese, was dismayed by the poverty and suffering he saw in the peasantry. The Confraternity of Charity, the first institutional expression of the Vincentian charism, involved lay leadership for social action. This came about when St. Vincent proposed that the women of his parish in Chatillon-les-Dombes unite for organized charity.

He later wrote: “When I was living near Lyons, in a small town to which Providence had called me to act as parish priest, on a certain Sunday just as I was vesting to say Mass, a person came to tell me that, in an isolated house a quarter of a league away, the whole family lay ill, so that not a single one of them could come to the assistance of the others, and they were in such dire straits as cannot be expressed. It moved me to the depths of my heart. I did not fail to speak feelingly about them during the sermon, and God, touching the hearts of those who were listening, caused them all to be moved to compassion for the poor afflicted people.

“After dinner, a meeting was held in the house of a good lady in the town to see what help could be given and every single one of those present was quite prepared to go and see them, to console them by talking to them and to help them to the best of their ability.”

And the Ladies of Charity have been serving the poor world-wide since, with compassion and a desire to alleviate their suffering. They strive to see Christ in the poor.

Later, in 1620, the first Confraternity of Charity for men was established at Folleville. A wealthy woman, Mme. de Gondi, requested evangelization on her lands and was instrumental in the establishment in 1625 of the Congregation of the Mission men’s religious order. In 1633 St. Vincent, with St. Louise de Marillac, established the Daughters of Charity, a religious order. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac both died in 1660. St. Vincent was canonized in 1737, and is still renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity. St. Louise was canonized in 1937.

The first Ladies of Charity association in the United States was formed in 1857 by Catherine Harkins at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, St. Louis. In 1957 several associations met in St. Louis to celebrate the Centennial and decided there should be a national organization. In 1960 the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA) was formed. For years, the National Service Center was in St. Louis, but in 2015 it relocated to Kansas City. The Ladies of Charity now have 6,400 members in the U.S., and more than 150,000 in 53 nations world-wide.

The Ladies of Charity of Metropolitan Kansas City was founded in 1952 from St. Vincent’s Maternity Hospital and St. Anthony’s Baby Home auxiliaries. Currently, Ladies of Charity serve at Seton Center, Villa St. Francis, Cristo Rey High School in Kansas City, Mo., and Duchesne Clinic in Kansas City, Kan.

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., welcomed the Ladies of Charity, and spoke of some of the sights and features of the city, including the Kansas City Royals, the Chiefs, barbecue and the symbol of Kansas City, its fountains, symbols of life and renewal. He remarked that he’d read the only city in the world with more fountains is Rome, Italy. He told them of arriving for his installation as bishop the night before the Royals won the 2015 World Series, and feeling he was in the right place at the right time.

He mentioned that his mother and two younger sisters, Beth and Amy, were Ladies of Charity in Knoxville Tenn., where he grew up. He remembered accompanying his mother to places where she served and advocated for the poor when he was a small boy.

The three-day assembly continued with meetings, panel discussions, talks and presentations, as well as banquets, breakfasts and tours of Kansas City.









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October 31, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph