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Local Little Sisters celebrate foundress’ canonization

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

CATHEDRAL DEANERY — Hundreds gathered at St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center Oct. 18 for a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the ministry of a recently canonized saint known for her deep faith in God’s providence, humility and dedication to caring for the elderly poor.

Mother Cecilia Mary Sartorius, local superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, presents a special St. Jeanne Jugan medal to Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

Pope Benedict XVI canonized Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and four others at a Mass in Rome Oct. 11 that was attended by pilgrims from around the world. But local liturgy gave members of the Little Sisters of the Poor who operate St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold home for the Aged in Clifton, its residents, staff, volunteers, benefactors and friends the opportunity to honor St. Jeanne.

They were joined by St. Monica-St. George parishioners, members of other religious congregations from throughout the archdiocese and Little Sisters from Indianapolis and Louisville. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk presided, with Franciscans Fathers Al Hirt, pastor, and Jeffrey Scheeler, provincial minister of the St. John the Baptist Province, among the concelebrating priests.

St. Jeanne, born in Cancale, a small French town, discovered her vocation on a cold winter night when she encountered Jesus in the person of a elderly, blind and infirm woman who had no one to care for her. From there, more older people appeared at St. Jeanne’s doorstep, and generous young women came forward to help. Like St. Jeanne, they believed “the poor are our Lord.”

As their work spread across France and beyond, local residents began calling the women the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the congregation was formally founded in 1839. The Little Sisters established their homes for the elderly in the United States in 1868, first in New York, then in Cincinnati.

Their first home in Cincinnati, St. Joseph Home, was located on Florence Avenue. A second residence, St. Peter’s Home, was established on Riddle Road as the Sister’s ministry grew. The two homes were combined into the current facility in 1972, and today, St. Paul’s is home to some 95 elderly men and women in three nursing units and two independent living floors.

Members of the congregation — 2,700 worldwide — provide care for more than 13,000 people age 65 or older at homes in 32 countries. They operate 31 residences in North America.

St. Jeanne Jugan is depicted with an elderly man and woman in this icon by George Pinecross. Jeanne, the French founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, was proclaimed a saint Oct. 11 at the Vatican. The ministry of the Little Sisters centers on caring for the elderly poor in homes in 32 countries. (CNS photo/courtesy of the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

St. Jeanne was declared venerable in 1979 and beatified in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.

During his homily, Archbishop Pilarczyk noted that the ministry of the Little Sisters “became an important element in the life of many local churches, including our local church of Cincinnati. They began to be seen as important, not only important to the people they care for, but important to the Catholic community at large because of the example they give of selfless dedication to those in need.”

“Being important really isn’t important unless God makes it so,” the archbishop added. “Jeanne Jugan and her Sisters and the people they serve have become important not because they have sought importance, but because they have been faithful to the Lord and the Lord has touched their lives and their work and made it all important.”

The Mass of Thanksgiving was just one part of the group celebration for the Little Sisters of the Poor. A small of local pilgrims traveled to Rome for the canonization and found it to be a deeply spiritual experience.

”I have to say, the whole experience was the highlight of my religious life,” said Sister Francis Gabriel King. “To experience the internationality of the church and our congregation, to see the faith of all those gathered and to witness Jeanne Jugan being declared a saint was such a motivating factor for me. It was a light for me that I hope to now share with other people.”

”Now the whole world knows about Jeanne Jugan. The secret is out,” added Donna Large, a resident of St. Paul’s who made the trip. “We have a saint for all people, the poor and the elderly poor. This was a woman who loved humanity.”

For Fran Tucker, director of development for the home, witnessing the canonization brought home “the largeness of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It really gives us here in Cincinnati a spectrum of the scope of our mission. It was very inspiring and empowering.

Back in home in Cincinnati, the local Little Sisters of the Poor and some 20 residents of St. Paul’s rose before dawn to watch the live broadcast of the canonization ceremony. They were joined for Mass later in the morning by volunteers, benefactors and others with close ties to the congregation, followed by a steak dinner for the residents.

“It was a day of joyful celebration,” said Mother Cecilia Mary Sartorius, superior. “All of the other religious congregations sent congratulations, which gave us a nice sense of unity that they were celebrating with us.”

St. Jeanne’s canonization was an opportunity for the Little Sisters to reflect on the ongoing significance of her ministry and spirituality.

“She is a saint who is very much needed for our time because of her great respect for the elderly, desire to give them the best of care, improve their quality of life and treat them with dignity,” explained Mother Cecilia. “She brought out the great worth of the elderly, what they’ve given to society and are still giving, especially their hope and joy.”

The humble saint’s faith-filled example continues to be an inspiration to the Little Sisters and those whose lives they touch.

“It’s her faith in providence that everything will work out. I wish I could have that kind of faith,” said Jo Ann Zurlinden, a former employee, longtime volunteer and current resident of St. Paul’s, as well as a member of the Association Jeanne Jugan.

“She was so humble and had such deep faith,” added Clarann Heisel, also a resident. “I know St. Jeanne is watching over us.”

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

Related photos: The Little Sisters have a long history of service to the elderly and poor in Cincinnati. View historical photos from the CT archives here.

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