Little Sisters of the Poor
Jeanne Jugan Residence, Newark, Delaware
On more than one occasion on our state by state cross country trip, we've seen friends in more than one state. Friends we visited in Florida stopped to see us in Tennessee while on their way to Wisconsin (and we may see them there). The friends we stayed with in Tennessee we saw again in West Virginia when we visited a ministry they were working with there. And then there's the Little Sister of the Poor, who we saw at a church in Maryland and found in our neighborhood in Delaware.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been in the news of late,* is an Order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor. It was founded by Jeanne Jugan in the 19th century. Jugan, born in 1792, grew up in France amidst the extreme poverty which followed the French Revolution. She had jobs as a kitchen maid and a nurse, through which she developed a spirit of service. At the age of 47, she welcomed an elderly blind woman into her house. Soon, a second woman came, and a third, and Jugan began her ministry. She began to raise money for her ministry and to take in other workers. Her order was formally established in 1839. At the time of Jugan's death in 1879, 2,400 Little Sisters of the Poor were serving the elderly poor. Today the Order serves in over 30 countries around the world.
I visited the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, Delaware. It is a beautiful facility that cares for the elderly at different life stages. There are basic apartments for those who can care for themselves. There is a secondary section for those who need more care, and a third area for those who need round the clock care.
There is a general store on the property, along with a library and a coffee room. Most of the facilities, along with many of the recreational opportunities, are maintained by volunteers, and some of those volunteers are Jeanne Jugan residents themselves. Of course, activities include rosary services, prayer services, Bible studies, and daily Mass. The ten nuns and three priests on property lead the religious activities. But attendance of religious services is not mandatory. Being a Catholic is not a requirement for entrance into the residence.
I was impressed by the beauty and cleanliness of this place, and I'm grateful that the Little Sisters are carrying on their good work -- and that we could get a glimpse of their service.
*Trigger warning: I'm going to talk politics for a few sentences. This year above all others, I certainly can sympathize with a desire to avoid the discussion of politics, but a political issue is part of the Little Sisters' story. Bureaucrats in the federal government interpreted the Affordable Care Act to read that the Sisters, along with other religious organizations, must pay for birth control for their employees -- even though this violates their religious convictions. Though the government saw fit to give exemptions to companies such as McDonalds for financial reasons, they took the Sisters to court. The Supreme Court just made the unanimous, and I think sage, decision that said, in effect, "Hey Bureaucrats, figure out a way to make this work."