St Jeanne Jugan (1792-1879)
Feast day: 30th August
Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor
Saint Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, was born on 25th October 1792 in Brittany, France and grew up under political and religious uncertainty during the times of the French Revolution. However, her mother, Marie Jugan, made sure that Jeanne and her seven siblings were brought up as Catholics.
When she was just sixteen years old, Jeanne worked as a kitchen maid to the Viscountess de la Choue, who was a devout Catholic. The Viscountess brought Jeanne to visit the sick and the poor often, teaching her the true meaning of Christian charity. Jeanne started working at the hospital of Saint Servan as a nurse when she was 25 years old. She was also an Associate of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, having denied marriage proposals previously, explaining to her mother that God had other plans and was calling her to a work which had not yet been founded!
After working in Saint Servan for six years, the demanding workload took a toll on her health and she had to leave. After that, she worked for Mademoiselle Lecoq for twelve years until the death of the older woman. During those years, the two of them taught catechism to the town’s children and cared for the poor and unfortunate.
When Jeanne was 45 years old, with 72 year old Françoise Aubert and 17 year old orphan Virginie Tredaniel, they formed a Catholic community of prayer from which they taught the catechism and helped the poor. From that point, Jeanne started to take in elderly women who were in need of shelter especially during the cold winter months. In 1842, Jeanne acquired an unused convent that could hold forty of the elderly poor, starting the religious congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
In subsequent years, many other young women joined Jeanne in her mission of service. They went door-to-door everyday, requesting money, food, and clothing for the elderly women in need. By the end of the 1840s, Jeanne was also able to establish four more homes for the Little Sisters of the poor.
After communities of Little Sisters had begun to spread throughout France, their work spread to England in 1851. From 1866-1871, five communities were founded in the United States. By 1879, there were 2400 Little Sisters spread across Europe and North America. In September 1885, the congregation made their first foundation in South America in Valparaíso, Chile. Today, the Little Sisters of the Poor serve in thirty one countries around the world, including in the US, Turkey, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Penang, New Zealand, and Philippines.
Jeanne died in 1879 at the age of 86, and was buried in Saint Pern. She was beatified in Rome by Pope John Paul II on 3rd October 1982 and canonised on 11th October 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
St. Jeanne is an exemplary guide for us, teaching us how to care for the old, the sick, and the poor through the love of God, and to trust in the Lord for He will provide.
St Jeanne Jugan, pray for us!
About the Little Sisters of the Poor in the UK