August 20, 2010

Begging sister at St. Augustine Home follows St. Jeanne Jugan’s example

Sister Margaret Knebel, a Little Sister of the Poor and native of Jasper, Ind., enjoys sharing stories about the life and mission of St. Jeanne Jugan. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Sister Margaret Knebel, a Little Sister of the Poor and native of Jasper, Ind., enjoys sharing stories about the life and mission of St. Jeanne Jugan. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

What a difference God makes!

The Little Sisters of the Poor have seen countless prayers answered in miraculous ways since they began serving the elderly at the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis in 1873.

For 137 years, the Little Sisters who minister in Indianapolis have sent heartfelt prayers heavenward and trusted that God will provide for the needs of the elderly poor dependent upon their care.

The sisters also pray to saints for intercessions, especially Mary, St. Joseph and now St. Jeanne Jugan, who founded the international order in France in 1839.

Since Pope Benedict XVI canonized the French nun during a Mass on Oct. 11, 2009, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Little Sisters in the United States and 30 other countries have been able to educate many, many more people about her humble life and mission of providing love, respect and care for the aged and infirm.

Sister Judith Meredith, the superior at the St. Augustine Home, said St. Jeanne Jugan’s “loving witness has been a constant inspiration for us as Little Sisters to continue to live in her spirit and to be faithful to all that she taught us by her great respect for the elderly and for the gift of life.”

It is “a joy” to tell people about their foundress during parish visits, explained Sister Margaret Knebel, the donations coordinator and begging sister.

“When I go out to churches, I talk about the miracle of her canonization,” Sister Margaret said. “I think St. Jeanne Jugan is an inspiration for the begging sisters because she was a beggar. She went out every day with her basket on her arm, collecting the daily provisions. Her advice to the [sisters who are] beggars is extraordinary. … We are to try to emulate her example, and to make our begging a ministry to the people. We try to give as well as receive.”

A native of Holy Family Parish in Jasper, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, Sister Margaret came to Indianapolis last December from St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Baltimore.

“I lived and worked in Evansville for many years before I entered the community in 1982,” Sister Margaret said. “It’s a mystery, isn’t it, how the Lord calls when he wills? I met the Little Sisters through a favor to my mother. … When I was visiting Jasper on a weekend, my mother asked me if I would like to do an act of charity. I said, ‘I will if I can.’ She said her neighbor was now a resident in the Little Sisters’ home in Evansville, and asked me if I would visit her there.”

And so Margaret Knebel’s life of charity began with a simple act of charity.

“That was my introduction to the Little Sisters,” she recalled. “I knew almost from the first moment I walked in the door that somehow or other the Little Sisters would be part of my life from then on, but I didn’t realize at that point that I had a [religious] vocation. That realization came a little later, but I knew there was something special about the home.

“The interesting thing is that I used to drive by the home every day on my way to work,” she said, “and I never had an interest or reason to stop and visit.”

After volunteering at the home for several months, she told the superior that she felt called to religious life and ministry to the elderly.

After completing her postulancy in the U.S. and novitiate in France, she made her final profession in 1989. She also served at the Little Sisters’ home in San Francisco and former home in New Orleans.

“The people in central Indiana have been extraordinary in their generosity to this home,” Sister Margaret said. “Some of the businesses have been giving to the Little Sisters for years and years. It’s like a big family. Prayer is our way of thanking our benefactors and volunteers. We pray sincerely for those who are so good to us. Members of the St. Augustine Guild, the Association Jeanne Jugan, advisory board and committees are so good to us. The time they devote to helping us with fundraising and other needs is amazing.

“It’s an inspiration to me to see the generosity of people because time is our most precious commodity,” she said. “We only have so much time, all of us, and to see all these wonderful individuals embrace the mission of St. Jeanne Jugan and to be so willing to help us in so many different ways is really beautiful.

“The Little Sisters don’t have investments or endowments and must rely on daily charity to care for our elderly residents,” Sister Margaret said. “When you have investments, eventually you put your confidence in your investments. You feel secure. If you live on daily charity then your confidence is in God. In my 26 years of religious life, I’ve seen many miracles. God inspires people to acts of generosity.”

One of Sister Margaret’s favorite stories about St. Jeanne Jugan is how she would place her unwavering trust in God.

“She said, ‘Give us the house. If God fills it, he will not abandon it,’ ” Sister Margaret explained. “In other words, God’s Providence is always there even though we don’t know how we’re going to manage our monthly deficit. But we know that God will see us through.” †

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