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Little Sisters of the Poor: 154 Years in the Archdiocese

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It’s more than a retirement facility. It’s a real home, a family, a place where all are treated with love, compassion, dignity and respect, and all are welcomed as if they are Christ Himself. That’s how the Little Sisters of the Poor, staff, residents and residents’ family members and visitors describe the Saint Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home.

In May 2022, with great sadness, and their characteristic practicality and trust in God, the Little Sisters of the Poor announced their withdrawal from the Home. Lackawanna Healthcare Associates will purchase the facility and maintain it as a senior living residence.

Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, provincial superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, explained: “As part of a strategic plan aimed at strengthening our ministry and the quality of our religious and community life, we Little Sisters have recognized the need to withdraw from a certain number of Homes in the United States, while at the same time dedicating our resources to much needed upgrades and reconstruction projects in several others.”

Since 1868, the Little Sisters have served in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, where they established their second foundation in the U.S. at the request of Archbishop John Baptist Purcell and philanthropist Sarah Worthington Peter. By mid-20th century, the Sisters served 435 residents between the city’s two homes. They ministered at the original building on Riddle Road from 1886 until 1975, when the current Home opened and replaced the Florence Avenue and Riddle Road locations.

“One hundred and fifty-four years is quite a history,” said Mother Marie Edward Quinn, superior of the Home. “I often think if I wrote a book, the last chapter would be titled ‘Gratitude.’ We could never have served all these years here without all of the support, both spiritual and financial, of the people of God. It’s because of His grace and the prayers and generosity of the people of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that we’ve been able to carry out the mission of our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan.”

Mother Marie Edward said countless residents, family members, staff and volunteers shared what sets it apart from other retirement facilities. “It’s the family spirit,” she explained. “You can feel it. It’s the spirit of charity to all who dwell here. It’s the presence of the Lord.”

“We all feel that way,” said Vince La Sita, a resident for 18 months. His wife of 68 years, Judy, has lived there for four years, but La Sita’s connection to the Little Sisters goes back much further, to 1938. “I was born and raised three blocks away. When I was a student at St. George School, we would come and sing for the sisters and they would give us 7 UP and cookies,” he recalled fondly. “When you left, you just felt like you had a clean soul. You just felt like God is there, and it still feels that way. That’s the difference.”

Fellow resident Sue Stewart has lived at the Home for seven years and will move to the Little Sisters’ St. Augustine Home in Indianapolis. “In all of the Homes, you become part of the family,” Stewart said. “You know that you’ll always get the care you need and that the Sisters will pray with you and be with you when you’re dying. That’s very reassuring.”

Father Rob Waller has long had a special place in his heart for the Sisters and Home. He ministered at the Riddle Road site and celebrated his first Mass there after his ordination in 1975. Just six months later, his father, Roy, had a stroke; for the next 19 years his father was in the Little Sisters’ care. Father Waller’s family came to know, love and respect them. It was no surprise, he said, when his mother, Isabelle, was ready to move to the Archbishop Leibold Home. She said simply, “It’s time.”

“She felt safe. That was huge for me and my brothers and sisters,” Father Waller said.

He noted that, in addition to the three traditional vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, the Little Sisters profess a fourth vow—hospitality—which contributes to the sense of family and faith at all of their Homes. “They welcome others as they would welcome Christ if He were to walk into the lobby of their home,” he said. “They are so authentic in what they do. They take care of the elderly, the poor, and they do it well and with great love.”

As part of their mission, when possible, no resident passes away without a Little Sister present. As a Sister once said to Father Waller, “Besides assuring the person and their family… that they are not alone in this moment, it is such a grace and blessing for the Sisters. Imagine: my face might be the last face that they see before they look into the face of God.”

A Mass to honor the Little Sisters’ faith and ministry and to bid them farewell, will be celebrated Jan. 14 at 2 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier Church in downtown Cincinnati, with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr as celebrant and Father Waller as homilist. The buyers will take over the Home’s operations on Feb. 1, 2023, pending the State of Ohio’s approval. The Sisters will then depart.

“For more than 150 years, the Little Sisters have been vigilantly caring for elderly seniors, here in Cincinnati,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “Their faith-filled work has brought dignity and respect to the poor, sick, elderly and dying and their ministry has been a visible witness to our Lord’s call to love our neighbor. The Little Sisters have been a tremendous blessing for countless families and individuals and with great affection we pray for them during this time of transition.”

This article appeared in the January 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Little Sisters of the Poor after the Mass of Thanksgiving for the 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati at St. Monica-St. George Parish in Cincinnati Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)
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