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Local sisters eagerly await canonization of foundress


Blessed Jeanne Jugan is depicted with an elderly man and woman in this icon by George Pinecross. CNS photo/courtesy of the Little Sisters of the Poor

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SOMERVILLE -- For a local community of sisters and the people whom they serve, Sunday, Oct. 11 will be a day of historical, personal, and spiritual significance.

On that day, Blessed Jeanne Jugan, who founded the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor in France in 1842, will be canonized. The Little Sisters of the Poor have houses for the elderly all over the world, one of which is in nearby Somerville.

“All of us feel it’s a spiritual journey. It’s a pilgrimage,” said Sister Gertrude Mary, LSP, superior of the Somerville community. “For the Little Sisters of the Poor, it’s one of the most historic events in the congregation.”

“Jeanne Jugan is the model for us,” she added. “She enfleshes what every Little Sister should be. She gave her life to the elderly and poor.”

The canonization has a deep theological significance for the work of the order.

“For us, Little Sisters, it means that the seal of the Church is placed on her charism of hospitality, as also on her message to each Little Sister of ‘littleness’ and of confidence in God’s loving care,” said Mother General Celine. “It reminds us that, like Jeanne Jugan ‘we are only the instruments of his work.’”

The canonization is part of a series of events in Rome held from Oct. 10 to Oct. 13. Evening prayer vigils will kick off the pilgrimage on Saturday and the canonization Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 11 at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass will be televised at noon by CatholicTV. On Oct. 12, there will be a papal audience followed by a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The following day, a morning Mass will be held at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

“I think this is a privilege to be part of a canonization, let alone working in a facility of the foundress,” said Wess Travers, a human resources employee at the Somerville residence. “Canonization doesn’t come along every day.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an international congregation, ministering to and operating residences for the elderly in 32 countries around the world. There are about 2,700 sisters in the order and they serve over 13,000 elderly residents in 202 homes worldwide. In the United States, the order operates in 30 homes in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Within the New England region, the sisters also operate homes for the elderly in Pawtucket, R.I. and Enfield, Conn.

“We don’t feel our homes are nursing homes,” said Mother Gertrude Mary. “We feel they are homes for the elderly.”

“A big part of our work is to be with them when they are dying because dying is a part of living” Sister Gertrude Mary added. “The sisters take turns staying with the elderly day and night.”

Locally, the Little Sisters operate a home in Somerville, the Jeanne Jugan Residence, at 186 Highland Avenue. The facility has 84 beds, and offers a wide array of services on-site to residents.

The sisters recently received a grant to create a room where residents can make various baked goods. They also make candy with the residents. Residents and employees join in a monthly birthday party, as well as hosting cookouts on the porch.

“We live here too. We’re here 24/7,” said Sister Rose Cantu, LSP. “That, as well, helps to contribute to the family spirit.”

“It’s not our job,” said Sister Gertrude Mary. “It’s our way of life.”

The family and community spirit, as well as the home-like atmosphere, makes transitioning to a Little Sisters home easy.

“There was no adjustment to what life was going to be like here,” said Peg Reilly, a current Somerville resident who volunteered at the home when she was a teenager. “They still practice what they practiced when I was a child.”

The home participates in Medicare and Medicaid. In April, it received a four-star review from Medicare.

The Little Sisters came to the Boston area 137 years ago, according to Sister Gertrude Mary. They originally lived in Roxbury before moving to Somerville.

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