ART BY GEORGE PINECROSS, COURTESY LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR
HOSPITALITY is a hallmark—actually a
vow—of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Rosemary Cleveland speaks warmly of
the pleasant atmosphere she has experienced
in their care.
Rosemary has lived for 16 years at St.
Augustine’s Home for the Aged in Indianapolis,
Indiana, and recently celebrated
her 99th birthday there. St.
Augustine’s is the successor to an earlier
home in Indianapolis, founded
While Rosemary is surrounded in
her spacious room with reminders of
her past, she is quite aware of the present.
“I’d rather be home with Jean [her
daughter, Franciscan Sister Jean Marie],
but since that can’t be, I’ll take this,”
she says. She cites safety, good company
and good times as three reasons
she enjoys her days at St. Augustine’s.
Last May, the spacious limestone residence
Rosemary and 98 other men
and women call home already featured
large banners announcing the October
11 canonization of Jeanne Jugan (1792-1879), the founder of the Little Sisters.
An imposing statue of the founder is in
the sanctuary of their chapel.
The humble Breton woman who
began this work would be surprised by
the bustle. She might say, as she once
did, “They’ll talk to you about me.
Don’t pay any attention. Our good
Lord knows the whole story.”
‘The Poor Are Our Lord’
The whole story began in the winter of
1839, when Jeanne and her two companions
took in Anne Chauvin, a blind
and infirm elderly widow. Jeanne, who
was 47 years old, carried Anne up the
stairs to the second-floor rented space
where the three women lived and
prayed. She gave up her own bed to
Anne. Jeanne began to sleep in the attic.
Since her mid-20s, when she refused
a proposal of marriage, Jeanne had been
convinced that a special work of God
lay in her future. Now that work had a
face: Anne Chauvin. By 1840, Anne
was one of 26 guests. Jeanne, her companions
and their guests required a
larger space and she began her mission
of begging for the poor in her care.
St. Augustine’s Home in Indianapolis,
Indiana, had similar humble beginnings.
In 1872 (when Jeanne was living
in forced retirement in France), four
Little Sisters responded to the invitation
of Bishop Maurice de St. Palais. The
vicar general rented two small houses
near St. John’s Church in Indianapolis
where he was pastor. Within days, the
sisters were caring for six elderly guests.
At that time, St. Augustine’s was one
of more than a hundred outposts of Little Sisters—with foundations in
Africa, Ireland and Italy, as well as in
France and the United States.
Who was the powerhouse behind
such phenomenal growth? Jeanne
Jugan, the first of the Little Sisters, lived
in tough economic times in a country
under the shadow of revolution and
revolt. The French social fabric had
been worn thin by political upheaval.
Jeanne’s family was Catholic, though
her education in the faith had to be
kept secret. A lay order founded by St.
John Eudes operated in this repressive
secular environment. When she was
25, Jeanne became a member. She led
a life of prayer and service to the poor,
despite her own modest means.
The biographers of Jeanne Jugan seem
to marvel at the rapid growth of the
Little Sisters: from a trio of women, to
a charitable organization, to a fledgling
religious order, to one with thousands
of members by the time of their
founder’s death in 1879. This growth
may well be Jeanne’s first miracle.
Another miracle was the manner in
which she took on the work from
which she had rescued others. She
begged on behalf of those no longer on
the streets. She begged tirelessly, with
great faith, cheerfulness and indomitability.
Biographer Paul Milcent describes
her collecting as a work of
When she was slapped in the face by
a man who refused her, she replied,
“Thank you. That was for me. Now
please give me something for my poor.”
Such courtesy was for everyone, generous
or not. It is said that she was as
thankful for one potato as for a load of
“It is a great grace God is giving you,”
Jeanne once said of caring for the poor.
“In serving them, it is Himself whom
you are serving. Never forget that the
poor are Our Lord.”
It is this single-minded belief that
God will provide for the little ones that
has energized the faith and foundations
of all the Little Sisters to follow,
those who knew Jeanne and those who
carry on that same work in the present
“Jeanne Jugan was Mother Teresa
before Mother Teresa,” Dr. Edward Gatz
Dr. Edward Gatz and his wife, Jeanne,
didn’t know of Jeanne Jugan or the Little
Sisters of the Poor until 1989. The
sisters have no foundation in Nebraska,
where Dr. and Mrs. Gatz have lived all
They did know a Jesuit, however,
who knew the Little Sisters. Father
Richard McGloin, S.J., had been
Jeanne’s Latin teacher. He had also been
chaplain to the Little Sisters in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. (This house has
been in the care of the Salvatorian Sisters
The Little Sisters, whose mission was
to collect or beg for that Milwaukee
home, also served Father McGloin
breakfast after Mass every day. Their
hospitality was a grace he never forgot.
He told Dr. and Mrs. Gatz, “They
are the most wonderful group of
women you’ll ever meet.”
In 1989, Dr. Gatz was diagnosed with
adenocarcinoma, cancer originating in glandular tissue. He was 51 at the time.
Dr. Gatz’s prognosis was so poor that
a partial esophagogastrectomy was simply
a palliative measure. In a May 2009
telephone interview, Dr. Gatz recalled,
“I had begun to prepare for my final
exam.” After all, he had outlived both
his parents already. He had seen his
mother struggle with cancer for two
years before her death at 45. He had
been anointed three times.
The doctor began to put his affairs in
order, trying to smooth the path for
his wife and son. He was not praying for
a cure. He was in a “state of peacefulness
and calm,” he says.
His wife was not as resigned. She
called their friend Father McGloin for
consolation and advice. He recommended
the novena prayer to Blessed
Jeanne Jugan. He began to pray for his
friend’s cure that very day and Jeanne
Gatz joined in as soon as the prayer
arrived in the mail.
Seven or eight weeks after surgery,
some visible symptoms associated with
Dr. Gatz’s cancer disappeared and he
had a sense of “something leaving me.”
Subsequent exams showed no evidence
of cancer. Five years after his surgery, he
indeed had a final exam of sorts in
which he was declared to be cancer-free.
Early on, he had decided against
both radiation and chemotherapy, so
those treatment regimens had not contributed
to his renewed health.
After two and a half years, the doctor’s
disability insurers began to question
the initial diagnosis and required
thorough medical review to rule out
error or fraud. That review would serve
as convincing evidence later.
Jeanne Gatz speculates that her husband
was the recipient of this miracle
because his medical background
enabled him to document his case in
such a credible and exact manner, both
on paper and in person. He is glad to do
that out of gratitude, but he compares
himself to the centurion’s servant (see
Luke 7:1-10). His wife and his Jesuit
friend are the centurions requesting
the cure, Jesus is the healer and Dr.
Gatz is the servant who was healed.
Each year of improved health has
added to the marvel. After 13 such
years, Dr. and Mrs. Gatz asked Father
McGloin whether they should
report this cure. Upon reflection,
the Jesuit agreed. Through
guests who had enjoyed the
hospitality of the Little Sisters
in Kansas City and subsequently
of Dr. and Jeanne Gatz
in Omaha, they learned the name of
Mother Marguerite McCarthy. Jeanne
Gatz called her.
• 2,710 Little Sisters of the Poor
• Serving 13,232 residents
• In 202 homes
• In 32 countries
• On six continents
• With 31 homes in North America
• And 2,065 lay associates
(Association Jeanne Jugan)
Little Sister of the Poor Marguerite
McCarthy continues the work of the
founder at the Jeanne Jugan Residence
in San Pedro, California, where the sisters
have served since 1905. In 2002,
however, Mother Marguerite was in
charge of the Jeanne Jugan Center in
Kansas City, Missouri, where the Little
Sisters have served since 1882.
As Mother Marguerite puts it, “I just
happened to be the person who took
the phone call.” She realized that something
“unique and spiritual” had happened.
She asked the Gatzes to write a
narrative of their experience.
Then McCarthy spoke with Father
McGloin and asked him to do the same.
She forwarded this dossier to her provincial
in Chicago, who sent it to their
headquarters in La Tour, France.
The wait was difficult. The Little Sisters
in Kansas City held the intention
close to their hearts. Then things began
to fall into place. New Jersey-based
Passionist Father Dominic Papa, vice postulator of Jugan’s cause, examined
the evidence and interviewed people.
Officials of the Diocese of Lincoln,
Nebraska, did the same. It took three
years of Vatican discernment until, on
December 6, 2008, the Congregation
for the Causes of Saints decreed Dr.
Gatz’s cure to be a miracle. “Until the
Church spoke,” Mother Marguerite
says, “everything was based on hope.”
What is the impact of Jeanne Jugan’s
canonization on the Little Sisters? Sister
Marguerite believes that it “confirms
that the work begun by Jeanne
Jugan is needed.” It honors her holiness
and emphasizes that “the elderly poor
deserve respect and love.”
It is also a miracle, Mother Marguerite
observes, that the work of Jeanne Jugan
spread so rapidly when the sisters have
continued her commitment to work
without any guaranteed income. Each
house has its collecting sisters who ask
for alms daily, just as Jeanne did. On
any given day they may visit grocers,
florists, butchers or produce warehouses.
They ask for alms at parishes on
weekends as well.
“We are successful because of Jeanne
Jugan’s spiritual legacy,” says Mother
Marguerite with conviction. “Hopefully,
young women will want to follow
in her footsteps. She is not of our century,
but the work is. It is a pro-life
Following in the footsteps of Jeanne
Jugan is also a pledge more than 2,000
people have made through the Association
Jeanne Jugan (AJJ). Jeannine Hong
is a new AJJ associate. She began as a
volunteer when the Little Sisters collected
at her parish. After a period of
formation, AJJs make annual promises.
Jeannine is an accomplished musician
and felt she could minister to the
aging through music. She is now doing
just that by leading sing-alongs at St.
Augustine’s Home and also teaching
piano lessons to eight residents.
Rosemary Cleveland, whom Jeannine
calls an “incredible musician,”
likes to join in these sing-alongs and
also plays the drums in the residents’
Inspired by her visits to St. Augustine’s,
Jeannine wrote a song entitled “If
These Walls Could Speak.” On hearing
it, the sisters invited her to compose a
song to celebrate the upcoming canonization.
The musician decided to rely on
words attributed to the founder, which,
though not many, are both simple and
She entitled the song “Be Little, Very
Little.” In 34 heartfelt lines, Jeannine
Hong traces Jeanne Jugan’s vocation—from the day she carried Anne Chauvin
up the stairs, through the forced 23-year
seclusion imposed by a priest who
claimed authority over the religious
community, to her single written signature
affirming the Sisters’ commitment
to live by begging, not accepting any
Just like the first woman she took in,
Jeanne Jugan’s eyesight was impaired in
her final years. She is said to have cautioned
the novices of the congregation,
with whom she lived, “When you are
old, you won’t be able to see anymore.
Now all I can see is God.”
Jeannine Hong chose that phrase as
the final line of her song.
Jeannine Hong, Dr. and Mrs. Edward
Gatz and Mother Marguerite McCarthy
all plan to join the throngs gathering in
Rome for the ceremonies proclaiming
the first Little Sister of the Poor a saint
of the Church on October 11, 2009.
Dr. Gatz, his health allowing, will carry
a relic of Jeanne Jugan in procession.
But they recognize that this newest
saint wants everyone who hears the
story of the humble founder or experiences
the ministry of the Little Sisters
to see only God at work. That is the miracle
that would most please St. Jeanne
See www.littlesistersofthepoor.org for