By Larry Peterson
Teresa Jornet Ibars was born into a family of farmers on January 9, 1843. Her dad’s name was Francisco Jornet, and her mom was Antonieta Ibars. Teresa had two older sisters, Maria and Josefa, and an older brother, Juan who was married and had three daughters. The farm was in Lleida, located in Catalonia in the Kingdom of Spain. She was baptized the day after her birth and received her Confirmation in 1849. (In the 19th century a child could not receive First Communion until the minimum age of 12).
As a child, Teresa displayed a deep concern for the conditions of the poor, and she often would bring someone to the home of her Aunt Rosa for something to eat, medical aid, and other necessities they might need. Aunt Rosa always did her best to help those Teresa brought to her home, and her example reinforced Teresa’s natural desire to help the poverty-stricken. After some time, Teresa moved to a different area of Llieida to live with another aunt, and while there she began studying to be a teacher.
When Teresa was nineteen, she began teaching in Barcelona. She also felt a strong calling to the monastic life. In 1868, she sought admission to the Poor Clares but anti-clerical laws of the day prevented that from happening. In 1870, she did become a Secular Carmelite to help develop her spirituality.
Toward the end of 1870, her father died, and she came down with tuberculosis. That kept her homebound for about six months. Fortunately, she did have a spiritual advisor. He was Father Saturnino Lopez, who greatly aided her recovery by encouraging her to begin caring for the many elderly people in the area. Most of these people were living alone and suffering from severe poverty. Her eyes opened wide at this concept, and she immediately accepted the challenge.
In 1872, Teresa Jornet Ibars opened her fist house in Barbastro, located in north-central Spain. Along with some followers and her sister Maria, the group took the habit and became a religious congregation. Teresa, who was already a Lay Carmelite, took the name of one of the great Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila. Her name became Teresa of Jesus Jornet. The official founding of the new order was January 27, 1873. The name the order was given was The Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly (Not the Little Sisters of the Poor founded by St Jeanne Jugan in 1839)
Teresa of Jesus Jornet was unanimously elected the first Mother Superior of the new community. Their new ministry was totally dedicated to the care and well being of the aged. Mother Teresa of Jesus taught her Sisters to sacrifice whatever they had to help the men and women that were in their care. She explained that these people were God’s gifts to them and that they were serving Him as they cared for them.
Amazingly, even though Mother Teresa of Jesus had suffered from a debilitating illness, she was noted for the powerful sense of peace she always exuded. This inner peace drew many young women to join with her.
The mother house opened in Valencia on May 8,1873. Mother Teresa was confirmed as the superior in 1875. On December 8, 1877, Mother made her perpetual profession and was named Superior General for the entire order. Pope Pius IX issued the papal decree of praise for her order on June 14, 1876. This was followed by Pope Leo XIII giving the formal papal approval on August 24, 1887. When the General Chapter of the Order opened in Valencia on April 23, 1896, Mother Superior begged her Sisters to not re-elect her. But they did. They could not imagine anyone else as their leader.
In 1897 an outbreak of cholera hit Spain. Mother Teresa of Jesus joined her Sisters to help care for the victims of this dread disease. By the time it was over, 24 Sisters and seventy patients had died from the disease. Mother Teresa was exhausted and ill and was taken to the order’s house in Liria. She stayed here and met her spiritual guide, Father Saturnino, for the last time. The date was July 15, 1897.
Mother Teresa of Jesus Jornet died on August 26, 1897. She was 56 years old. When she died her congregation had 50 houses. She had gone from being ill and rejected to leaving a legacy that will live forever. Today there are over 2600 religious serving the elderly in 210 facilities in different parts of the world, including such places as Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and Mozambique in Africa.
She was canonized by Pope Paul VI on January 27, 1974
St. Teresa of Jesus Jornet, please pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019