March 29, 2019

Little Sisters of the Poor host apostolic nuncio to celebrate 150 years of order’s U.S. ministry

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., preaches during a March 19 Mass in the chapel of the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis. The liturgy marked the 150th anniversary of the start of ministry in the U.S. of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate the retirement facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., preaches during a March 19 Mass in the chapel of the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis. The liturgy marked the 150th anniversary of the start of ministry in the U.S. of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate the retirement facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

It took more than two weeks by boat across the Atlantic Ocean from France to the United States. Finally, they arrived in Brooklyn on Sept. 13, 1868. They spoke no English, these religious women of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order founded by St. Jeanne Jugan in France just 30 years prior.

How fitting, then, that Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio for the United States, should celebrate the order’s 150 years of ministry in the United States with a Mass on March 19 at the Little Sisters’ St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis. The St. Augustine Home has served the poor aged of Indiana since 1873.

Archbishop Pierre, like the order’s foundress, is a native of France. The parish in which he was baptized and raised, located in the Brittany region of France, was the home parish of St. Jeanne Jugan.

It was also the church in which St. Theodora Guérin, Indiana’s first saint and foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840, was baptized.

And the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté, the first bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, Ind., which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, grew up in the Archdiocese of Rennes, France, for which Archbishop Pierre was ordained a priest in 1970.

“For us, to go to America is very far away,” he said after the Mass. “But to know that 150 years ago, some people from [there] decided to go shows what the Church is all about.”

Archbishop Pierre noted that his mother is still living in France—and that he feels especially close to the Little Sisters because she is cared for by members of the religious order.

March 19, the solemnity of St. Joseph, was a fitting day for celebrating the special Mass honoring the Little Sisters of the Poor’s 150 years of ministry in America. The sisters hold great devotion to the spouse of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, a love fostered by St. Jeanne Jugan.

“Her devotion to St. Joseph flowed from her confidence in divine providence,” Archbishop Pierre said during his homily. “Just as God is the Father who watches over his children, providing for their every need, so too, she saw St. Joseph as the one who could obtain bread for the poor and protect her call and mission.”

In his homily, Archbishop Pierre encouraged his listeners to learn from St. Joseph—“to live in a spirit of sacrifice with respect to our vocation.”

“We cannot have our vocation on our own terms. Rather, each vocation is a gift from God to be lived on his terms for his kingdom and for the good of the Church,” he said. “St. Joseph forgot himself and lived for his wife Mary and for his son Jesus. This degree of abandonment to divine providence is not so easy for us.

“And yet, we see the fruitfulness of this forgetfulness of St. Joseph. He forgot himself and remained faithful to God, living his vocation as a husband and as a foster father.”

Archbishop Pierre later said that the way in which St. Joseph protected Mary and Joseph is embodied today in the ministry of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“In these days, the Little Sisters continue to follow his example in protecting the little ones of the Earth, especially the elderly poor from the throwaway culture that threatens human dignity and the gift of life,” he said. “Your accompaniment of these little ones at the end of life’s journey reaffirms the value of each person and points them to eternal life with God. This is your mission, and we are grateful for it.”

Mother Francis Gabriel King, the superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis, was grateful that Archbishop Pierre came to celebrate the anniversary at the St. Augustine Home on the feast of St. Joseph.

“It was like having a little bit of France, a little bit of our heritage and our history with us,” she said after the liturgy. “It reaffirms us to live for God at the hands of St. Joseph’s intercession, who has always, in the history of our congregation, been a powerful intercessor.”

In the reception that followed the Mass, three rooms were set up at the St. Augustine Home to highlight the first three cities in the U.S. where the Little Sisters began their ministry in 1868: Brooklyn, N.Y., Cincinnati and New Orleans.

In the New Orleans room, where visitors enjoyed beignets, a French pastry popular in the city, resident Dori Hartter told the story of Mother Marie de la Conception, the Little Sister of the Poor who helped start their ministry in the city known as the “Big Easy.” She was dressed in a habit resembling the one the members of the order would have worn in 1868.

Hartter, 80, has lived at the St. Augustine Home for three years and values the hospitality that the Little Sisters of the Poor show to their residents and all their visitors.

“They continually give themselves in hospitality,” she said. “It’s understanding in a different way what our Lord really means in terms of going out to the poor himself.” †

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