Bl. Louisa

(Died, A.D. 1503)

They called her Madame Louisa of Savoy. Born in 1461 to Duke Amadeus of French Savoy, Louisa was a granddaughter of Charles VII and niece of Louis XI, both kings of France. Children of royal blood are raised in very worldly surroundings. Fortunately, Louisa’s mother saw to it that her daughter grew up with a sense of conscientious concern for both God and neighbor. Even as a child, Louisa was noted for her sweet disposition. Everyone liked her.

It was taken for granted that this princess would marry, so marry she did, at the age of 18. Louisa and her husband, Hugh, were well-matched, for he, too, was a conscientious man. The couple saw to it that their house was noted for the seemly behavior of all who lived there. True, they had to give dancing parties from time to time as this was expected of them, but Louisa didn’t particularly care for dances. “They are like mushrooms, “she said. “The best are not worth very much!” She was happiest herself when taking care of the poor and the ill, and she paid special attention to lepers, of whom there were many in France in those unsanitary days.

Hugh died after only nine years of marriage. Since they had no children, his widow now prepared to join a religious order. Having given up her own property, she entered the Poor Clare Franciscan order, taking with her into the community her two faithful maids of honor. In the convent, she set as good an example as she had set in her household. Whatever came along, she accepted as occurring through God’s will. If she was delegated to scrub the floor, she scrubbed. If she was elected abbess she shouldered that task. (And a very good abbess she proved to be.) Louisa died in 1503, aged 42, leaving behind a truly fragrant memory.

While still the Chatelaine of Nozeroy, Madame Louisa and her husband had taken steps to suppress the profanity among their courtiers, women as well as men. Louisa set up a “penalty box” in a prominent place. Every woman caught using bad language was required to drop a coin into the box. The funds thus collected were spent on the poor. For the men, Madame Louisa established a harder penalty. They were required to kiss the ground. That, she pointed out, was a more effective way of dealing with noble men-folk. It shocked their egos into shame.

Louisa’s penalty box is said to have been her own invention. During World War II, I learned from an Army officer that he had tried a similar trick in camp. It put a cheerful sort of pressure on the profane military personnel, and here, too, it worked pretty well.

Most of us won’t have somebody constantly over us to penalize us for not correcting profanity or other bad habits. But what’s to prevent us from setting up our own penalty box and dropping into it “a tip for every slip?”

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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