Saint Jeanne Jugan’s founding charism
One could feel the fire of passion rising up in her … “What happiness for us, to be a Little Sister of the Poor! Making the poor happy is everything …” Littleness, love for the poor … all came together in Jeanne’s founding charism.
Father Eloi Leclerc, a elderly Franciscan priest and writer, has beautifully captured the essence of Jeanne’s charism as foundress in his book, The Desert and The Rose:
One notices a theme that comes up again and again in Jeanne’s recommendations to the novices: “Be little, make yourselves very little,” she would tell them. It was a kind of refrain. Indeed, she was convinced that in order to be close to the humblest and least, you had to become little yourself. You cannot establish truly close links while keeping your distance or placing yourself above others. The most high Son of God himself became the humblest of men in order to be close to all.
Jeanne gave great importance to this closeness. You had to be little in order to be close to the least. Such was the vocation of the Little Sisters of the Poor—their charism. It was not just for them a matter of giving shelter and food to the abandoned elderly. They were also to bring them a certain quality of relationship, a presence, a closeness which would draw these people out of their isolation and free them from their anguish. The Little Sisters are not ladies who condescend to devote some time every day to looking after poor people. No, they must become little themselves to enter into a close relationship with the humblest and most forsaken. One is not naturally “little,” in the evangelical sense. One becomes so. It takes time and much renunciation. Above all, one must ask for it as a grace. Such is the way Jeanne prepared the young novices for their mission, by making them aware of a fundamental demand of their vocation.
There was another point on which Jeanne insisted, connected to the first, and complementary. It is not easy to define. In her, it was a flame, first and foremost. Her eyes lit up when she spoke of it. One could feel the fire of passion rising up in her. One day she pronounced these burning words, magnificent in their simplicity: “What happiness for us, to be a Little Sister of the Poor! Making the poor happy is everything …” The whole mission and happiness of the Little Sisters is contained here: making the poor happy, giving happiness to the poor.
Jeanne’s message to the novices can therefore be summed up in these two elements: be little in order to be close to the most humble, and be close to make them happy. There you have it. There can be no better definition of the founding charism of the Little Sisters of the Poor.