August 29, 2016

Saint Jeanne Jugan, Virgin and Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor

St. Jeanne Jugan
August 30th, the Church celebrates Saint Jeanne Jugan, (1792-1879) also known as, Mary of the Cross, a French religious remembered for her dedication to the elderly indigent, who founded the Little Sisters of the Poor. She was born in Cancale, Brittany, (France) the sixth of eight children of Joseph and Marie Jugan.

Due to the religious persecution of the French Revolution. Jugan was catechized and attended Mass in secret. To support her family, she worked as a shepherdess. Later, she became a domestic servant to the Viscountess de la Choue, a devout Catholic. When the viscountess visited the sick and the needy, Jeanne would accompany her.

She declined the marriage proposals of several potential suitors saying that God was calling her to, "a work which is not yet founded." At 25, she entered the Third Order of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary founded by Saint John Eudes. During this period, she worked as a hospital nurse and assisted a fellow member of the Eudist Third Order, until the woman's death. Along with two other women, Jeanne rented a room to minister to the old and the sick.

One night, in the winter of 1839, Jeanne met Anne Chauvin, a blind, elderly woman with no one to care for her. Jugan carried Chauvin home, giving the woman her bed and tending to her ailments. Jugan resolved that the rest of her life would be dedicated to helping abandoned elderly. She would take in two more women within the month. Eventually she was providing shelter and medical care to a dozen needy women. In 1841, she acquired an unused convent building that could accommodate 40.

The future saint established four additional homes in Saint-Servan, Dinan, Tours, and Angers. Many young women joined her. By 1850, the Little Sisters of the Poor had over 100 members. In 1852, the Bishop of Rennes formally recognized the Congregation, naming Father Le Pailleur the Superior General of the Order. The new superior's first act was to consign Sister Jeanne to the Motherhouse for a retirement that was to last the rest of her life.

For the next 27 years, Jeanne served her order through tireless prayer and by accepting the trial and abasement permitted by God. She died peacefully on Aug. 29, 1879. At the time of her death, she was not acknowledged as the foundress of the order. In the fullness of time, however, thanks in part to her cause of canonization, she was finally honored for her life of heroic virtue. Her example speaks to the sanctity of all human beings and our obligation to each other. It is said that upon meeting Jugan, Charles Dickens said, "there is in this woman something so calm, 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."

St. Jeanne Jugan was beatified by Saint John Paul II on October 3, 1982, and canonized on October 11, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI, who said of her, "In the Beatitudes, Jeanne Jugan found the source of the spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on unlimited trust in Providence, which illuminated her whole life." God of might, giver of every good gift, put into our hearts the love of your name, so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, and, by your watchful care, we may keep safe what you have nurtured and imitate Christ more fully.

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