They desired to help the poor and their lives connected across the ages–Today they are all saints

   St. Vincent de Paul; Bl. Frederick Ozanam; St. Jeanne Jugan                      public domain

By Larry Peterson

Saint-Servan, France,1839:  On a bitterly cold winter night,  Jeanne Jugan, 47, looked out from her bedroom window and saw a person huddled outside. She went out and somehow managed to carry the shivering woman into her own home and place her in her own bed.

The woman’s name was Anne Chauvin and she was blind, paralyzed and quite old. She was also close to freezing to death. 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 Jeanne. 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, in 1879, there were over 2400 Little Sisters of the Poor in nine countries. That year was also the year that Pope Leo XIII approved the by-laws of the order. Ironically, it was also the same year Jeanne Jugan died at the age of 86. She was canonized a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Jeanne Jugan never knew that when she was founding the Little Sisters of the Poor a young countryman of hers in Paris was responding to God’s flowing graces. Frederick Ozanam was a 20 year old student at the University of Paris. Challenged by his “enlightened” college peers, he 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.  They named the  society after St.Vincent 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 mantle 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.

St. Jeanne Jugan could never have known that from the moment she carried Anne Chauvin 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 Society of St. Vincent de Paul would become a worldwide organization with close to 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. Jeanne took care of that sickly woman and Fred gave away his coat. Vincent worked with poor tenant farmers and founded the Daughters of Charity.

These three unpretentious, God loving people had two things in common.  First, they embraced God’s grace and followed His call. Secondly, they asked for NOTHING for themselves and welcomed whatever came their way, including poverty. Their legacies live on in the thousands upon thousands of their followers and in all those millions who have been helped by their simple acts of faith. This is a beautiful thing.

As a Catholic I love all of these people and I am proud to consider myself part of their extended family. They set examples for us that we are 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.

St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jeanne Jugan and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, please keep praying for all of us. And —THANK YOU.

copyright© Larry Peterson 2021


Rejected by two Religious Orders, she started her own. She became known as the “Mother of the Poor.”

St. Angela of the Cross                                      en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

She was born in Seville, Spain, on January 30, 1846. Three days later, she was baptized at the Church of Santa Lucia and given the name Maria de Los Angeles, which means Mary of the Angels. But they called her Angela. The child received her First Holy Communion when she was eight years old and her Confirmation at the age of nine.

Angela came from a simple family of very modest means. Her dad was trained as a woodcarver, but after moving to Serville took a job as the cook at a Trinitarian monastery. His wife, Josefa, took the job as a seamstress and house cleaner. Together they had thirteen children, of which only six survived. Angela’s schooling was limited as it was for most girls of her social class. When she was twelve years old, she went to work in a shoe factory to help the family with more income. She would work there virtually full time for the next 17 years.

The supervisor at the shoe factory was a devout Catholic woman by the name of Antonia Maldonado. She always encouraged the employees to pray together, to recite the Rosary, and to learn about the many saints in the church. It was through Antonia that Angela, at the age of sixteen,  would meet Father Jose Torres y Padilla, a priest from the Canary Islands. Father Jose would become Angela’s confessor and a powerful influence in her life;.

Angela had felt a calling to religious life, and when she turned nineteen, she decided it was time to answer that call. She applied to the Discalced Carmelites in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, she was turned away because of poor health. She turned to Father Padilla, who advised her to keep praying and to begin working with the poor, especially those suffering from Cholera, which was quite prevalent at the time. Angela followed this advice and started her service to the poor.

In 1868 Angela again attempted to gain acceptance to convent life. This time she applied to the Daughters of Charity of Seville. Despite her frail health, she was accepted. The Sisters tried to nurse Angela back to full health but were unable to. They sent her to Cuenca and then to Valencia, but neither place helped. She had to leave the order and returned home, going back to work in the shoe factory.

Angela continued working in the shoe factory and held on to her dream to become a religious. She worked and served the poor. She prayed and prayed, and in1873, she received a vision. In it, she was shown that her calling was to help the poorest of the poor. She began her mission that very day and also started a journal recording what she believed was God’s message to her.

Quickly other women were drawn to her, but it was on August 2, 1875, that she chose three ladies who were to begin a new order with her. They were Josefa de la Pena, who was quite wealthy, and Juana Maria Castro and Jauna Magadan. They were both poor, just like Angela.

The order they founded was called the Congregation of the Cross. Its mission would be to work with the sick, the poor, orphans, and the homeless. They would provide food, medicine, clothing, housing, and whatever else they could to help those in their care. The money Josefa had was used to rent a small room and a working kitchen. Other funds were strictly from alms and donations. They opened a 24-hour support service for the poor, and, in 1877, a new site was opened in another Seville province.

The Archbishop of Seville, Luis de la Lastra y Cuesta, gave his official approval to the new order on April 5, 1876. Father Torres died in 1877 and was succeeded by his protege, Jose Maria Delgado. Angela was installed as the Mother Superior of the Congregation of the Cross and became known as Mother Angela of the Cross. She was lovingly known to the people as the “Mother of the Poor.” She died on March 2, 1932, in Seville. She was 86 years old.

At the time of her passing 23 convents had already opened. By the year 2008, there were over 1000 sisters in the order serving the poor all over the world.

Pope St. John Paul II  canonized Mother Angela on May 4, 2003. Her feast day is March 2.

St. Angela of the Cross, please pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020