The Order of the Sisters of Mercy was founded in 1617 by Vincent de Paul, a preacher. In a sermon he placed before his congregation the case of a poor and sick family, urging their co-operation and sympathy. Enthusiasm and much zeal were roused, and a noble and gifted woman, Louise de Marillac, the wife of Legras, the secretary of Mary of Medicis, enlisted herself at once in the service of that family and of many equally indigent. She and her friends worked both in private residences and in hospitals, and were soon recognized as an order. As early as 1636 a house was founded for the care and education of children and women, a foundling hospital was established, and a home for the alienated in 1645. Her order owned, after a single century, 290 stations, and had 1,500 members, who entered between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, bound themselves for life to the order and the Church, and worked in hospitals and private residences, in the interest of both women and men, in rescuing fallen girls and educating the young. In Rome, mainly in this century, they assisted those taken with infectious and acute diseases who could not be admitted to the public hospitals, and everywhere they attended the chronic cases of sickness of all denominations. Their foothold in Germany dates from this century only. Their greatest adversity was the all-purifying thunder-storm, the French Revolution. Many emigrated to England, but during the Napoleonic wars their services were so much appreciated as to procure for Sister Martha the cross of the Legion of Honor.
All of the orders mentioned were composed of Catholics. Not one of them but was intimately associated with the Church. In this connection it ought not to be forgotten that all the culture and knowledge of the mediaeval period was confined within the limits of the Church. Within its fold the whole progress of mankind, slow though it was, toward humanistic evolution, was developed. Thus the efforts of the Catholic Church in favor of the poor and sick must be duly appreciated, the more so, as the so-called “Reformation” party exhibits nothing but blank leaves in the history of ethical and humane development. The revolutionary movement prepared by powerful minds for centuries, and finally carried out by Luther, did not result in any good to the sick and poor for a long time. Indeed, the success of the Reformation was in part due to the greed of German princes, who gained a rich harvest by appropriating monasteries, hospitals, and all other possessions of the Catholic Church. Thus the Lutheran Church, or churches, were left so poor that if they had the will they had not the power to make any pecuniary sacrifices in the interest of the poor and sick. But even that will they had not, could not have. For the first axiom in Luther's doctrine was this, that not work performed, but faith only, made the Christian. That doctrine was a long stride backward; it fired the imagination of some bigots, chilled the hearts of most men, sustained the egotist, and created dissensions. Never was there a