Paris, France, Aug 30, 2023 / 02:00 am
The French saint Jeanne Jugan (1792–1879), whose feast day is celebrated Aug. 30, founded the congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which spread throughout the world, including to the United States. Her intuition for caring for the elderly poor is acclaimed today, but what is less well known is that, unlike other founders of religious orders, Jeanne Jugan spent much of her life forgotten, sidelined by her own congregation.
Born in Cancale in the French region of Brittany on Oct. 25, 1792, Jeanne, a sailor’s daughter, knew at an early age that she wanted to devote herself to God. According to the website of the Little Sisters of the Poor, at the age of 25, she joined the third order founded by St. John Eudes in the 17th century, worked as a nurse’s aide, and had only one desire: to serve God in the poorest of the poor.
One winter’s evening in 1839, Jeanne’s life changed drastically: In the freezing cold, she discovered a blind and crippled old woman. Moved by compassion, she carried the woman on her shoulders to her humble attic, laying her in her own bed. She brought a second old woman home shortly after that, then a third. Four years later, in 1843, an association had grown up around these first acts of service. At that time, Jeanne was joined by three companions, serving some 40 elderly people.