Sisters Of Charity, a religious congregation founded by St. Vincent de Paul in the vicinity of Paris about the year 1033, with the cooperation of Mme. Le Gras, a pious and charitable lady. The object of this institution was the care of the poor, especially of the sick, and the education of children; and its members are everywhere the servants of the poor, which name was conferred on them by the archbishop of Paris when he gave them his formal approbation in 1655. Prisons, free schools, hospitals, and almshouses were at once placed under their direction in all parts of France. The congregation was soon invited to take charge of similar institutions in other countries, and the sisters of charity are now to be found in almost every civilized land. Louis XIV. granted letters patent to this institution in 1057, and they were finally confirmed by the legate of the pope in 1660. The charity and devotion of these women had made them so useful to all classes, that even the revolution spared them. They continued their work of beneficence secretly, but without restraint. One of the first acts of the new government was to open to them a field of usefulness, and Napoleon placed them under the protection of his mother. They make simple vows, which are renewed every year.
In 1862 the number of establishments was 1,004, viz.: 947 in Europe, 80 in America, 17 in Asia, 17 in Africa, and 3 in Australia and Oceania. The number of members was estimated at 28,000. The American branch of this congregation was established at Emmitsburg, Md., in 1809, by Mrs. Eliza Seton, their first mother superior. The foundation of Mrs. Seton until within a few years remained a quite distinct establishment from the French order; but of late a great portion of the American sisters of charity have adopted the French dress and rule. The New York mother house and its dependencies, however, still retain their original independence. In 1873 there were in the United States 150 houses belonging to the sisters of charity.