by Larry Peterson
When Jeanie Jugon began working in the hospital in Saint-Servan she was 25 years old. She hated poverty and all it wrought and she wanted desperately to fight back against it. One bitterly cold winter night in 1839, Jeanie looked out from her bedroom window and saw a person huddled outside. She went out and somehow managed to carry the freezing woman into her own home and place her in her own bed. The woman was blind, paralyzed and quite old. And so it began, for on that very night Jeanne Jugan turned her life to serving God by caring for the elderly poor.
Word spread quickly throughout the small town and before long more elderly sick and poor were being brought to Jeanie. Other women, younger and healthier, were coming to her also. But they were coming to join her in her work. The small group of women grew and became known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. Forty years later there were over 2400 Little Sisters of the Poor in nine countries. 1879 was also the year that Pope Leo XIII approved the by-laws of the order. That was the same year Jeanie Jugon died at the age of 86. She was canonized a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Saint Jeanne Jugon never knew that when she was founding the Little Sisters of the Poor a young man hundreds of miles away in Paris was unknowingly doing something quite similar. Fred Ozanam was a 20 year old student at the University of Paris and, challenged by his “enlightened” college peers, embraced their taunts “to practice what you preach”. So he went out and gave his coat to a beggar. Then he and his four pals founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. That was in May of 1833. The society was named after St.Vinnie because he was known for his work with the poor.
Vincent de Paul never knew that 170 years after his death an organization named after him would take up the mantel of helping the poor all over the world. Fred Ozanam died at the age of 40 and was beatified and declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Fred would never know that the organization he had founded would one day work side by side with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their mission of charity toward the elderly poor. Saint Jeanie could never have known that from the moment she carried her first old, sick woman into her home she would change the world for thousands upon thousands of the sick and disabled elderly. She could never have imagined that in the 21st century her order would be serving the poorest of the elderly in cities all over the United States and in 31 countries around the world. Blessed Fred would never have imagined that his St.Vincent de Paul Society would become a worldwide organization with 3/4 of a million members helping the needy all over the world. The grand irony is that over the course of several centuries the paths of these three saints have been interwoven dramatically as their followers help the poor, homeless and downtrodden no matter where they may be.
The three saints mentioned here never knew what their simple acts of kindness would lead to. The difference with them was that, unlike most folks, they responded to God’s grace. Jeanie took care of that sickly woman and Fred gave away his coat. Vinnie worked with poor tenant farmers and founded the Daughter’s of Charity. The two things they all had in common was a) they welcomed God’s grace and followed His call and b) they asked for NOTHING for themselves and embraced poverty. Remarkably, their thousands and thousands of followers, separated by centuries, work together to this day. This is a beautiful thing.
Using the names of saints as I have done here bothers some folks. I really do not care about that. My brother’s name is Daniel but I call him Danny. As far as Jeanie, Fred and Vinnie go, they are my family too. You see, I love all of these people and using their names like that makes me feel closer to them. They set examples for us that we supposed to emulate. They are our Catholic heroes and therefore members of our Catholic Hall of Fame. They asked for nothing and gave everything. I love being able to talk to them. What I love best is when they talk back. And they do, sooner or later and one way or another.
We must remember to pray hard for The Little Sisters of the Poor as they stand their ground against the HHS mandate that threatens their very existence. The forces of secularism are hard at work to remove religion from our lives. All our family members, including Vinnie, Jeanie and Fred, need to stand together defending each other against this enemy.
St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jeanne Jugon and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, please pray for us.