When Jeanne was born in 1792, France was caught in the bloody French Revolution. Times were difficult for the Jugan family, and begging became a way of life for Jeanne from a young age. Although Jeanne did not receive a formal education, she did receive formation in her faith, secretly, from her mother and other Catholic women. When she was only four years old, her father was lost at sea. Her mother struggled to make ends meet for her four children. As a young girl, Jeanne worked to help support her family. She received her first marriage proposal when she was 18, but declined. When she refused the suitor again six years later, she told her mother that, “God wants me for Himself. He is keeping me for a work which is not yet founded.”
“God wants me for Himself. He is keeping me for a work which is not yet founded.”
It would be many years before Jeanne would discover what that work was that God had in mind for her. When she was 25, she became a nurse in a hospital and joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes. A few years later, she met a poor, elderly woman on the street and recognized the face of Christ in this stranger. It was a cold night and Jeanne carried the woman to her home. She placed the woman in her bed and, from then on, Jeanne slept in the attic. Soon, she began to care for two more elderly women. By 1841, she had to rent space to provide rooms for the many people she cared for. In 1842, she was able to obtain an old convent that could house 40 people.
Women who shared the outlook that “the poor are Our Lord” began to gather around Jeanne for leadership. They sustained themselves by begging in the streets and the locals dubbed them “the Little Sisters of the Poor,” based on their radical solidarity and love for those they served. Less than ten years after Jeanne had taken in the first woman, over 100 women had joined her in mission. As the Little Sisters grew, so did Jeanne’s reputation. However, when Father Auguste Le Pailleur was made the superior general of the Little Sisters, he cast her aside into retirement. When she died after 27 years of obscurity, none of her Sisters knew that she was their foundress! She truly lived the words she often spoke: “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” The seed that Jeanne planted had been nourished by the Holy Spirit and flourished into 2,400 members.
“We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.”
Jeanne was recognized as the foundress when the Holy See investigated the actions of Father Le Pailleur and removed him. During her beatification Mass, Pope St. John Paul II said that “God could glorify no more humble a servant than she.” Let us pray that Jesus will give us the courage to follow Him with the radical love that St. Jeanne Jugan emulated.
Feast Day: August 30