A Woman of Faith, Hope and Love …

On 21st February 2009 Pope Benedict XVI announced that Jeanne Jugan, the humble French woman who founded an international religious congregation dedicated to the care of needy elderly persons will officially become a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on 11th October 2009. Just 27 years ago when the late Pope John Paul 11 beatified Jeanne, he said, “…God could not glorify a more humble servant.” These words and Jeanne’s message of love and compassion are more relevant today than ever before. Jeanne will truly be a saint and model for our time.

As mentioned elsewhere in our webpage Jeanne’s beginnings were poor and humble. Her roots take us back to Brittany, France where her father, a sailor, was lost at sea when Jeanne was only three and a half years of age. Her gift of Baptismal Faith was nourished by her mother and became her pillar of strength throughout her long years. Jeanne’s life was always outward looking and it was on a cold winter’s night that she recognized the presence of Christ in the person of a blind and infirm elderly woman whom she found alone and in dire need. Jeanne took her in her arms, carried her home and placed her in her own bed. From this single act of hospitality the seed was sown. Other elderly people arrived on Jeanne’s doorstep but so did the willing hands of a small group of young women ready to help Jeanne care for them. Thus was born the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Today, one hundred and seventy years later, over 2,700 Little Sisters of the Poor care for more than 13,000 elderly persons in 202 homes around the world, three of which are in Ireland, four in Scotland, nine in England and one in the Channel Islands.

Much has changed since that prophetic act of Jeanne in 1839 but the essential remains the same – to provide love, care and security for elderly persons of poor or modest means, in the warmth and happiness of a home. Following in Jeanne’s footsteps the Little Sisters strive to continue to understand the inner needs and aspirations of the elderly, especially those of being respected, esteemed and loved, their longing to feel useful and their fear of loneliness and dependence. Although great and extraordinary advances have been made in society, older persons today still experience these same desires and fears. In many aspects of life today, there is a great lack of respect for the human person. This is evident in the marginalization of the weak and vulnerable, euthanasia and assisted suicide. Jeanne’s message is relevant and timely and always will be as she is declared a saint and intercessor: “Look upon the poor with compassion and Jesus will look upon you with kindness.”