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 CNS Story:

JUGAN Sep-30-2009 (550 words) With photos and graphic. xxxn

Blessed Jeanne Jugan called 'a Mother Teresa of her time'

Sister Camille Rose points out an open table for resident Mary Nathan in the cafe of the Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

By Nancy Wiechec
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Blessed Jeanne Jugan isn't exactly a household name.

Yet those who live on Harewood Road in northeast Washington know well the story of the soon-to-be saint.

"She took one lady, put her on her shoulder, took her home and gave her her own bed," said Mary Nathan, 77, who has lived for nine years at the Jeanne Jugan Residence on Harewood. "My heart sees her always as a saint."

Blessed Jeanne, who founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in France in 1842, will be canonized Oct. 11 in a ceremony at the Vatican.

"She was very much like a Mother Teresa of her time," said U.S. Sister Diane Shelby, one of the Little Sisters at the Washington home. "She reached out to the elderly poor and took care of them in her own home."

It was in 1839 when Blessed Jeanne, 47, took in her first resident, Anne Chauvin, a blind and ill widow. She gave Chauvin her own bed and went to sleep in the attic. Soon Blessed Jeanne and two companions were attending to several other women who could not care for themselves.

Today, the sisters -- 2,700 worldwide -- look after more than 13,000 people age 65 or older at homes in 32 countries. They operate 31 residences in North America, emulating their founder's ministry and her spirituality.

The sisters rely on the generosity of others in the same way Blessed Jeanne went door to door with a "begging basket" to support her home.

As she sat in the cafe of the Washington home, Sister Diane reflected on how Blessed Jeanne saw the elderly. "She believed that old age is a stage of life deserving of respect and love."

The bright and charming cafe is a gathering place for celebrations, singalongs, impromptu card games and even a frozen daiquiri happy hour every now and then.

"Loneliness is one of the biggest poverties for the elderly," Sister Diane said. "But here, there is much love."

And there's also serious work.

The sisters provide for 100 residents, providing professional nursing care for the very ill, planned activities and full-service dining for those less active, and meals and aid to those in assisted-living apartments. Spiritual care, including daily Mass, is an integral part of the home's routine.

Paid staff plus volunteers help with the day-to-day workload.

"An important part of our ministry is to accompany those who are dying," Sister Diane said. When a resident is near death, a sister is always with that person, holding his or her hand, talking and praying. "We make a point of being there with them, making them as comfortable as we can," she said.

There are many challenges in working with the aged. But Blessed Jeanne gave her sisters this advice: "Never forget that the poor are Our Lord. In caring for the poor say to yourself: 'This is for my Jesus.'"

Sister Diane and Nathan will be part of the Little Sisters of the Poor delegation on hand for the canonization. It will be a special trip for both, neither of whom has been to Rome.

When asked if they would be staying at the Vatican, Sister Diane let out a little chuckle and said, "Oh, no. We're staying at a campground."


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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