MARY BETH O'BRIEN at the celebration in Chatillon, France
MARY BETH O'BRIEN at the celebration in Chatillon, France
The Ladies of Charity is the oldest organized, continuously functioning, volunteer lay organization in the world. Founded in France in 1617 by St. Vincent de Paul, the organization encouraged women in the community to organize in assisting impoverished and disadvantaged people.

This lay organization was comprised only of women. Their charity work spread from France to Poland and Italy. Today, more than 200,000 volunteers serve in 53 countries. 

The Ladies of Charity came to the United States in 1857. Today, the organization serves 200 communities in 22 states. This is a jubilee year for the associations, which are celebrating with a recommitment to continue to serve those in need with humility, simplicity and charity.

Nearly 6,000 Ladies of Charity in America fight poverty with service, advocacy and educational projects in collaboration with Vincentian priests, the Daughters of Charity religious order and other groups seeking to help poor and frail people, especially women and children.

The Ladies of Charity USA are a part of the International Association of Charities (AIC), totaling more than 200,000 volunteers in associations in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America.

Mary Beth O'Brien of Mater Christi parish in Albany recently traveled as a member of the U.S. delegation of Ladies of Charity to Chatillon, France, for the group's 400th anniversary celebration and general assembly. Nearly 400 members from around the world participated in talks, Masses and a tour of sites related to St. Vincent de Paul. Daughters of Charity and Vincentian priests from around the globe provided spiritual reflections on the history and charism of Ss. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso delivered a letter from Pope Francis in which the pope said, "I hope that your beautiful work continues its mission of bringing an authentic testimony of God's mercy to the poorest."

Pope Francis pointed out in his letter that the Ladies of Charity were born of the tenderness and compassion of St. Vincent for the poor and marginalized: "His work with them wanted to reflect the goodness of God toward His creatures. He saw the poor as the representatives of Jesus Christ, as the members of His suffering body. He understood that the poor, too, were called to build up the Church and to convert us."

The pope encouraged members to pay particular attention to the precarious living conditions of many women and children today. He said faith allows us to perceive people's dignity as created in the image and likeness of God -- a brother, a sister or a neighbor, for whom we are responsible.

The Holy Father hoped the Ladies of Charity can contribute to a "culture of mercy" that "deeply renews hearts and opens up to a new reality."

(For more information on the Ladies of Charity, go to www.aic-usa400.org.)