September 22, 2017

Little Sisters rely on ‘God’s partners’ to help meet needs

By Natalie Hoefer

To help serve the elderly poor, there is one thing the Little Sisters of the Poor are not too proud to do: beg. In fact, it is one of their traditions from their foundation.

When St. Jeanne Jugan started the congregation in 1843 in France, she started by picking one elderly woman off the street and cared for her in her own home. Soon other elderly came for help.

“She didn’t have the means to care for the elderly she took in,” says Little Sister Mother Francis Gabriel, superior of the order in Indianapolis and its St. Augustine Home for the Aged. “It was common practice at that time in France to go out and beg.

“The elderly told her where they used to go. She went in their name. She told them, ‘I will take care of their body and spirit if you help me care for them,’ and the tradition of begging—development, they now call it—was born.

“To this day, the tradition of begging helps us to remember our roots, why we’re here and who we’re here for,” says Mother Francis.

(Related story: Little Sisters of the Poor provide witness of God’s love and ‘keep dignity before us,’ Archbishop Thompson says)

Although the sisters no longer set out on foot to beg, they do visit local businesses in search of help.

“Every city is a little different,” says Mother Francis. In Indianapolis, the beggar for St. Augustine Home “has regular rounds she makes with regular companies or vegetable and fruit vendors, and regular donors. …

“We go from business to business, give our card, explain who we are, and ask if they could help us, if not now then in the future.”

Recently, the Marsh Supermarket chain went out of business. The store had regularly helped supplement the home’s kitchen with fruits, vegetables, bread, sweet rolls and other items, Mother Francis said.

Such regular contributors help the Sisters “meet the general operating expenses of the home, and at the same time it’s a treat for the residents,” who hail from all over Indiana but particularly from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Lafayette.

While the closing of the supermarket chain has had an impact, Mother Francis is far from worried.

“Miracles continue to this day,” she says. “St. Jeanne Jugan was ingenious to use what she could at the time to help the elderly. We’re doing the same.”

Such efforts include mailings, fundraising events, speaking at parishes and the help of the St. Augustine Guild—and a devotion to St. Joseph.

“We know if we pray to him, he will provide for us,” Mother Francis says.

Currently eight sisters—the youngest in her 30s and the oldest in her 90s—help care in some way for the residents living in the home, a number which hovers around 95.

Because the home has two nursing floors—in addition to the opportunity for individual living—the sisters receive reimbursement from the federal government for acuity of care.

“But it’s only 60 percent of what we need on a monthly basis,” says Mother Francis. “The other 40 [percent] comes from benefactors and friends.

“St. Jeanne Jugan said she wasn’t alone in this [mission]. These are God’s children we’re providing for. We aren’t alone. It’s the sisters, the residents, the employees, the volunteers, guild members, Association of St. Jeanne Jugan [those who pray for the Little Sisters, their cause and those they serve]—it’s all these friends who do things for us.”

The support the sisters receive frees them up to do the true charism of their vocation: to “take [the elderly] in when they’re well so they can benefit from the social and spiritual activities that go on here, prep them for God’s coming, and care for them as they progress,” says Mother Francis.

“One of our main focuses of our life is to be with those who are dying and not leave their bedside,” she explains. “A sister stays with them around the clock. We like to say that the last face they see is ours before they look on Jesus. … It’s a time of faith we can share, and strengthen them in their weakness.”

She says all those who help the Little Sisters in their mission “are God’s partners.

“He’s working through them to bring about his kingdom and care for the poor elderly, which is so greatly needed in our day.”

(For more information on how to help the Little Sisters of the Poor with financial or material donations or by volunteering, call the St. Augustine Home at 317-415-5767.)

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