While the Milwaukee Chapter of Ladies of Charity was officially chartered in November of 1957, the Association actually began in 17th century France, where golden carriages rolled to glittering parties while the poor sickened and starved in the slums… Actually it was a practical homemaker in the small French town of Chatillon-les-Dombes who bustled in to tell her pastor, the remarkable Vincent de Paul, that while barns bulged with good harvests and plump grapes were ripening on the hills, a neighboring family was ill, starving miserably—and not a half mile from his pulpit.
That August Sunday in 1617, the priest’s sermon was aflame with prompting for charity in action; by dinner time the needy family was swamped with more foods and wines than they could use.
Realizing that such gestures in the future should be better timed and regulated, the pastor persuaded several of the parish women to organize what was to be the first of his several “ways and means” committees for help to the indigent, the ill, and the unemployed.
Once kindled, the idea spread to wealthy estates. In the narrow streets of Paris the poor and hungry began to listen for the footsteps of these cordial, practical “ladies” who scrubbed, cooked, cared for abandoned infants, nursed the sick, taught catechism, and distributed food. Their alms were sent to provinces destroyed by civil war, extended to prisoners, to gallery slaves, to the ransoming of captive Christians, to missionary work, as their association spread throughout the world.