The more the humility, the better the littleness!
Jeanne Jugan grew up in a small town in revolutionary France, in 1792. Times were tough as violence ruled during those days. For thousands, begging was a way of life. Those who openly practiced their faith were not merely ridiculed but they were imprisoned or killed. Jeanne received her faith formation secretly and at great risk, from her mother and a group of women who belonged to a lay movement. Later, she went to work as a kitchen maid for a wealthy family.
Jeanne barely learned to read and write. Her education consisted mostly of ‘on the job training‘ in the school of ‘real life‘. Though not beautiful or talented in the usual sense, she was gifted with an extraordinary heart. Jeanne was on fire with love for God! In her teens, Jeanne felt the call of divine love. Preparing to leave home, she told her mother
“God wants me for himself. He is keeping me for a work which is not yet founded.”
Many years went by before Jeanne discovered her vocation. Finally, on one cold winter night she met Jesus Christ in the person of an elderly, blind and infirm woman, she had no one to care for her. Jeanne carried the woman home, climbed up the stairs to her small apartment and placed her on her own bed. From then on, Jeanne would sleep in the attic.
Her story led more poor and old people to her doorstep. Generous young women came to help. Like Jeanne, they wanted to make a difference. Like her, they believed that ‘the poor is Our Lord‘, and so, a religious community was born!
There were so many old people in need of a home, so many souls hungry for love! The work rapidly spread across France and beyond. Struck by their spirit of humble service, local citizens named the group, ‘The Little Sisters of the Poor‘.
The work of ‘the Little Sisters‘ continued to spread, borne by the wind of the Spirit. So did Jeanne’s renown – until one day she was mysteriously cast aside by an ambitious priest who had taken over the direction of the young community. Jeanne was replaced as a superior and was sent out begging on behalf of the poor. At the time of her death, 27 years later, the young Little Sisters in community didn’t even know that she was the founder.
The life and work of St. Jeanne Jugan is something I can relate to on a personal level and so, was inspired to write about her. Although St. Jeanne may seem like an unassuming saint and her work may not be as striking as others, what touched me were her qualities of humility, simplicity, purity and a spirit of joyful service.
St. Jeanne is someone who gave the elderly and poor a place of respect and dignity in this world. In today’s society these 2 sections of society are the most neglected, as they are seen as unproductive and not so important. I have lived with my grandparents ever since I was a child and they hold a special place in my heart. Caring for them shows me the circle of life in a huge way – Old age needs so little, but needs that little so much.
We celebrate the feast of St. Jeanne on August 30th. At her beatification Pope John Paul II said,
“God could glorify no more humble a servant than she.” She aspired not to be great but to be little.
The life of St. Jeanne has helped me realise that any act or service towards the poor or elderly must be done with love, only then can it bear fruit and that is what I strive to do daily.