The Little Sisters of the Poor , are religious women, members of an International Congregation, who have dedicated their lives to the service of the elderly, in 30 countries of the world on its 5 continents. But that is not all, they are also women who are deeply in love with the Lord and who desire to serve Him in those who have reached the final stages of their life's journey - accompanying them with love, compassionn and skilled care, strengthened by the strong contemplative dimension of their life. They desire, by their compassionate accompaniment of those preparing to meet their Lord, to be 'pro-life' - witnessing to the dignity of all human beings, but especially to the inestimable value of those whom our 'consumer societies' often consider a burden - the elderly.
Their Name says it all -
However, this mission is only possible because they accept that God has sent them to do it - and He gives them what they need to accomplish it, strengthened and nourished by daily Eucharist and the contemplative moments of their day. It is confirmed by a fourth vow of Hospitality, which they take in addition to the other vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience.
They are strengthened in they mission resolve by a deep community life which finds its expression in and through their apostolic action, so that their Apostolate is that of the whole community. Missionary work, within their Apostolate, is open to those who are called to this special vocation, as we serve the Church and the elderly in most Third World countries. Today therefore, in 1997, the Little Sisters, the spiritual daughters of Jeanne Jugan, continue to respond daily to the Lord's call by their welcome and care for the elderly, wherever their Homes, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Self-Care Units and Day Centres are found. They feel urged on by the assurance and commitment that their special charism offers them - that God-given gift which enables them to see Christ in those to whom they minister. They are enabled through this charism to give a service that is matured in humble charity, and inspired by the beatitude of spiritual poverty in the simplicity of the 'little ones' of the Gospel and in the joy of the children of God. Like Jeanne Jugan, they too rely on God for everything, strengthened daily in His love.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, in Bangalore
On 25th October 1792, in a cottage on the outskirts of Cancale, on the north coast of Brittany, a baby girl came into the world. That same day, she was baptised in the parish church and registered under the dame Jeanne, daughter of Joseph Joucan and Marie Horel, his wife.( Joseph Joucan, Jeanne's father, was born at Cancale on 26th March 1757. His name was variously written Jouquan, Joucquan, Jouquand, Joucant, but not Jugan. It was at St. Servan, where the name Jugan is common, that Jeanne's surname was corrupted into Jugan; and this stuck. Marie Horel was born on 22 July 1757. Her name was sometimes written Hores, but was inn any case pronounced Hor-ay. She married Joseph Joucan, then a topsail-man, at Cancale on 29th April 1783).
It was on a winter's day in 1839 that the call of the Lord took form in the life of Jeanne Jugan when she took the decisive step that changed her life and the lives of thousands of others. The people of the sea-coast town of Saint Servan, France, were unaware of an event that was occurring. They had become used to seeing the elderly poor begging along the narrow streets, nut Jeanne would never become used to it. Poor and hard-working herself, Jeanne shared what she could, helped where she could. But that day, when she encountered Anne, a poor blind, partially paralyzed and homeless old woman, her life was no longer her own. When she carried Anne up the winding stairs leading to her rented room, placed her on her own bed and shared her food with her, she knew that this was just the beginning. It was not an impulsive gesture of momentary sympathy. Jeanne was aware that there would be no turning back. When she bent over that elderly lady, it was the end of almost thirty years of searching. Jeanne was eighteen years of age when a young sailor in her home town of Cancale asked her to marry him. She asked for time to reflect - she was not sure. Six years later, when he asked her a second time, Jeanne gave him her prophetic reply: 'God wants me for Himself. he is keeping me for a work which is not yet known, for a work which is not yet founded.'
Jeanne had a great desire to give herself to God in the religious life but she did not feel that she was being called to any of the religious congregations known to her. So she waited. During this time she made a private vow of chastity. She also joined a Third Order founded by St. John Eudes in the 17th century. The waiting was not in vain. God was forming her soul through prayer and through her life experiences for the great work for which she was destined. The spirituality of St. John Eudes drew her into a deep Christ-centered prayer life, and later, her contact with the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God drew her into the living spirit of hospitaller charity. And so, on that winter's day in 1839 Jeanne answered the Lord's call. She was a woman whose heart had been given to her Lord many years before, for Him to accomplish His work in her. Nonetheless, she was not satisfied with a quiet, bourgeois life ... and how could when, when at each step she met an outstretched hand, a hungry mouth, a poor person in rags sleeping out in the open .. something had to be done ... and Jeanne did it!
Carrying the elderly Anne on her back, she took her and laid her on her own bed, while she slept in the attic. Her heart, and her door were henceforth wide open .. soon there would be another elderly lady who would come to ask to share her home .. then a third, and a fourth .. and so on, the work began to bourgeon. Jeanne was by then 49 years old. However, her resources were totally insufficient to feed her growing family! Encouraged by a Brother of St. John of God, Jeanne went out herself and begged on the highways and the byways for her 'poor'. Jeanne, along with the many companions who were quickly to join her, continued confidently to welcome and care for 'her poor'. She seemed to be everywhere - she walked, basket in hand and begged iin the name of the elderly. Sometimes she went to the help of one or other of the newly-founded houses ... encouraged some, brought comfort to others.
How did Jeanne's contemporaries see her? Charles Dickens' biographical account following a visit to one of her houses: 'There is in this woman something so clam, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears. Yes, such is Jeanne Jugan - friend of Brittany's poor.'
Jeanne's strength came from God Hinmself whom she contemplated in her heart to heart prayer - as she trudged the roads of Brittany ... or recognised in the face of the elderly poor .. or in the hand that shared! Her strength could be observed in her joined hands and her lowered eyes, because in her life, everything began with, and ended with prayer. This was the secret source of her strength and her courage:"If God is with us, it will be accomplised."
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Thought for the Day:" Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, Fon in the manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did they fathers to the false prophets." Holy Bible: Luke 6:20-26