The name Jeanne Jugan did not strike a chord of recognition in me, nor did the title Mother Marie of the Cross (Mere Marie de la Croix). I have, however, known since early adulthood of the work of The Little Sisters of the Poor, who had an established house not more than a few miles from my own Motherhouse outside of Albany, New York where I lived. We speak sometimes of “the hidden life” of Jesus – the years during his youth and young adulthood about which we have little or no information. It seems that St. Jeanne, as well as the Sisters who have come after her, lived most of her life in that manner while doing extraordinary work for the elderly poor. (see Saint of the Day at www.franciscanmedia.org)
It began organically, as good works often do, when she was 15 or 16 years old, serving as a kitchen maid for a family who cared for their elderly poor neighbors. Later, as a nurse and a member of a third order group (lay associate of religious women), Jeanne’s work with the poor elderly drew others to her so that by 1839 they began welcoming permanent guests into their home. Ten years later they had six houses staffed by members of her association, by then known as The Little Sisters of the Poor. When Jeanne died on August 30, 1879, the year that Pope Leo XIII gave final approval to the constitutions of the Little Sisters, there were 2,400 members caring for the elderly and infirm. Today the Sisters work in 30 countries, living in the manner of their founder who once said, “With the eye of faith, we must see Jesus in our old people, for they are God’s mouthpiece.”
Today, as the Church celebrates St. Jeanne, it seems fitting to reflect on those elderly persons in our lives who have mirrored God to us, to pray especially for those who are underserved in our society and to remember with gratitude those who dedicate their lives to the care of the aged in our midst and beyond. May all be blessed!