Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Little Sisters of the Poor

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An active, unenclosed religious congregation founded at St Servan, Brittany, 1839, through the instrumentality of Abbé Augustin Marie Le Pailleur. To two of his penitents, in whom he discerned an unusual aptitude for spiritual things, he had given a rule of life, and had placed one of them, Marie Jamet, in the position of superior to her companion, Virginie Trédaniel. These young workwomen, at the instance of their director, added to their daily duties the personal care and support of a poor blind woman. While in search of a lodging for this aged woman the Abbé Le Pailleur formed the acquaintance of Jeanne Jugan, who was born at Cancale, 15 May, 1793. She was soon eager to share in the charitable work, and on 15 October, 1840, Marie Jamet and Virginie Trédaniel, with their charge, went to live in her house. The three young women went out daily to their work, bringing home their earnings for their common support and that of the blind woman. In course of time they were joined by Madeleine Bourges and gave shelter to other helpless old people. The zeal displayed by Jeanne Jugan in securing the means to support those in their care has caused her to be regarded as the real foundress of the order.

[Editor's Note: In 2000, the Little Sisters of the Poor offered this clarification of the Catholic Encyclopedia: "Jeanne Jugan is truly our foundress, not the priest mentioned in the article. Father Le Pailleur was in fact involved in the early phases of the work, but he was not the founder. In fact, as time went on, he removed Jeanne Jugan from the office of superior, forced her into oblivion, and then manufactured and propagated a false story about the origins of our congregation. This is the story which appears in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. In time the truth was revealed. Jeanne Jugan is now recognized as the foundress and she was beatified in 1982. We are praying most earnestly for her canonization."]

The congregation is included in the class of hospitallers. Its constitutions are based on the Rule of St. Augustine, and the sisters take simple and perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, to which they add a fourth, hospitality. They receive into their houses aged men and women who have no other shelter. Sixty is the youngest age at which they are admitted, after which they are members of what is known as the "Little Family", the superior being called by all the "Good Mother". To the best of their ability they assist the sisters in the work of the home. For the support of their foundation the sisters are dependent absolutely on charity, having no fixed income or endowments, and most of what they receive they procure by begging. The constitution was definitively approved by Pius X, 7 May, 1907. The mother-house and novitiate are at La Tour St Joseph, St. Pern, Ile-et-Vilaine, France; there are also novitiates in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the United States. The total number of foundations (1911) is 307; in France there are more than 100 houses, seven of them being in Paris; there are thirty in England, fifteen in Belgium, fifty-two in Spain, sixteen in Italy, four in Sicily, forty-nine in America, three in Australia, one in New Zealand, one in New Caledonia, etc. the order numbers more than 5400 members. On 19 January, 1911, the sisters in charge of the refuge of Campolide, Lisbon, where they cared for 329 inmates, were ordered to leave, their places to be supplied by lay attendants. In Rome the sisters have a house near S. Pietro in Vincoli. In Kimberley, South Africa, they are known as Sisters of Nazareth.

[Editor's Note: The Sisters of Nazareth are a Congregation in their own right. They were founded in London in 1851 at the request of Cardinal Wiseman, and received their approbation from the Holy See in 1888.]

HEIMBUCHER, Orden und Kongregationen, III (Paderborn, 1908), 388; STEELE, Convents of Great Britain (St. Louis, 1902), 244; LEROY, Au pays de la Charité (Abbéville, 1903); Messenger of the Sacred Heart (February, 1890), 103-12; Tablet (Oct. 24, 1896), 647; RAM, Little Sisters of the Poor (London, 1894).

Blanche M. Kelly.