“Making the elderly happy—that is what counts!” said St. Jeanne Jugan, founder of The Little Sisters of the Poor. For Dr. O John Ma, The Little Sisters of the Poor exemplifies the power of hospitality to make the world a better place.
Jeanne Jugan was born in 1792 in Brittany, in northwestern France. Her father was a fisherman who would spend six months every year at sea, catching cod off the coast of Newfoundland.
When Jeanne’s father sailed away in 1796, he did not return. Jeanne and her mother were left penniless, so Jeanne began to work rather than go to school. St. Jeanne Jugan never learned to read or write.
Jeanne had an opportunity to marry, but she decided that “God wants me for Himself. He has a task for me that He has not yet revealed.” Jeanne then went to the nearby town of Ste. Servan became a nurse at the Hôpital Les Rosais, but God’s will was not revealed to her.
Then one night in 1839, an impoverished, paralyzed, a nearly blind elderly woman was left at the hospital door. St. Jeanne realized that this woman had brought her mission from God.
Dr. Oscar John Ma is struck by what Jeanne did next. She gave the old woman with no family and no money the best sleeping place in the hospital. Then she started welcoming other impoverished elderly women to join them. Jeanne Jugan and the other nurses started sleeping in the attic.
On the advice of the Hospitaller Brothers of Saint John of God, St. Jeanne and the sisters started looking for a larger house in 1841. They found a building abandoned in the Revolution and made it a hostel for the elderly poor.
But the Brothers did not want a woman in a leadership position. Instead, Sister Jeanne is given the task of begging. Ste. Jeanne began to make the rounds of the city, always carrying a basket for collecting money and food, firewood, clothes, and other necessities.
In less than two years, however, Jeanne had found houses for the elderly poor in Rennes and Dinan. She was celebrated across the nation for her work, and visitors started coming from foreign lands just to be near her.
The order records a visitor from England wrote, “There is something so calm and saintly in this woman that, when I saw her, I believed I was in the presence of a superior being.”
The visitor wrote, “I told her that having covered France, she ought to come to England and teach us how to look after our poor people. “ She replied that, with God’s help , she would do so if invited.
The Brothers did not want Jeanne to take a position of prominence. She was removed to a service house in St. Pern, where she would remain for the rest of her life. But by 1879, there were 2,400 Little Sisters of the Poor serving the needy in nine countries.
Dr. O John Ma sees three lessons in the life of St. Jeanne Jugan. Choosing the path of service is not always appreciated. Others may want to take credit for your work.
But Dr. Oscar John Ma also sees the lesson of persistence. Sister Jeanne never stopped finding ways to help the poor.
Finally, John Ma notes good works attract more good works. Devotion to service is rewarded in ways that aren’t immediately understood. He considers it a privilege to contribute to the good work of The Little Sisters of the Poor even today.