Sunday, October 4, 2009

Little Sisters of the Poor get their saint; Hawaii gets their's too!

Rain was pelting the windows of the Holy Family Residence in St. Paul's Irvine Park district, but it was a welcome rain, and it didn't dampen any spirits or cheer. It might make it tough for begging, that's all. Little Sisters of the Poor are mendicants. They beg, beautifully. They beg for money, food and supplies to keep their operation rolling, serving the elderly and giving them a place to die in dignity among their new family of residents and Sisters.

"When a new resident joins us, they must be independent, but as they decline, they are taken care of,'' Sister Beatrice said at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home, which has been at Exchange and Wilkin streets since 1855. "We have an infirmary. They will not be alone.''

Sister's beeper went off. She fumbled under the folds of her white robe and turned it off, and then she ducked out of the conference room and asked a secretary to hold her calls.

"What would Jeanne Jugan think of that?'' Sister Beatrice was asked, meaning the cell phone and the beeper.

"She would have one,'' Sister Beatrice said. "She would use every technology she could get her hands on. In her day, it was the telegraph and the newspapers.''

Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in France, in 1839, when she was 47. She took a blind woman off the streets of Saint Servan and gave the blind woman her cot, and she slept in the attic. It is a clumsy analogy for such a great woman, but it is like discovering the guy at the end of the block can fix bicycles for free so everybody starts bringing the guy their bicycles. The elderly filled up Jugan's house. She got bigger houses.

Years before, a sailor in her hometown of Cancale tried to date her, marry her, but she told the fellow she was being saved by God for a calling that was unknown to her.

We know the Little Sisters of the Poor. There are 2,700 Little Sisters with 202 homes around the world. They serve to make the elderly happy. They exist in the background of our consciousness, sometimes mischievously. For example, they have defeated countless National Football League teams.

"I Googled us once,'' Sister Beatrice said. "You can't believe the times we showed up in sports columns. I wrote every sports columnist who ever mentioned us and never heard a word or got a dime.'' [!!!!!]

And on this occasion, for this meeting in the conference room of the Holy Family Residence, Sister Beatrice put the word out to the media, and she couldn't get a response; the sisters are unaccustomed to seeking attention but are beside themselves with joy.

Next Sunday, Jeanne Jugan will be canonized as a saint in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.

Sainthood is the ultimate Hall of Fame. Jugan's life of servitude wasn't enough. She was "blessed'' by Pope John Paul II in 1982, but a miracle had to be attributed to her and was, in the documented recovery of an Omaha anesthesiologist named Edward Gatz whose medical training made it possible for him to document his cure from cancer of the esophagus. As the cancer spread throughout his body, Gatz's wife and a priest friend, Richard McGloin, a student of Jugan, prayed to her at the same time every day. That paperwork, along with Gatz and his wife, will be in Rome next Sunday, 20 years after he was supposed to have died. Gatz is 71 and cancer-free.

It is difficult for these women to tout their accomplishments, to boast that they are so practiced in the art of accompaniment. They are born in the humility of their foundress, and they remain humble. They have no writings from Jugan, only her sayings, among them, "Little, very little, be very little before God.'' [She pre-dates St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower", whose book, "The Story of a Soul" also gives the message of humility and "being little."]

In the lobby of their home in Irvine Park, they have set up a cot, and some candles flickered near the cot. It was made up with a single rough blanket, and on the wall above the cot was a painting of Jeanne Jugan. It is their tribute to her for this special week.

Sister Beatrice, who comes out of Detroit and has worked as far away as Kenya, was asked how old she was. She waved away the question.

"I am young at heart,'' she said.

"What's your title?''

"Beggar,'' Sister Beatrice said. She laughed. "Collections agent?''

She wanted it noted that the people of the Twin Cities are invited to the Cathedral for a Mass next Sunday at 2 p.m., a Mass of Thanksgiving for Jeanne Jugan on the day she becomes a saint.

Joe Soucheray, Pioneer Press

On that same day as the canonization of Jeanne Jugan, Sunday, October 11, Damien de Veuster, "Father Damien of Molokai", the world renowned "Leper Priest" will also be canonized. Visit here for the Diocese of Honolulu's memorial web page for him.

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