Heroic Virtue

What made Jeanne Jugan a saint?

Jeanne Jugan was not canonized because she founded a religious congregation, because her work has spread all over the world, or even because the elderly need a friend today more than ever. She was declared a Saint because she practiced heroic virtue.

In speaking of the saints Pope Benedict XVI said that “heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of ‘gymnastics’ of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed….”

Saint Jeanne Jugan was holy because she was a friend of God, because she allowed God to work through her to make the world a better place—to make the elderly happy!

The greatest of these is love

Heroes are people we look up to, people we want to be like. Jeanne is a hero in virtue, beginning with the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

FAITH throws light on our path and leads us to the truth. Jeanne’s whole life was guided by a living and active faith. It helped her to see God everywhere—in the poor, in her Little Sisters and her superiors, in nature, in events, in prayer and in the depths of her being.
HOPE enables us to trust in God for all of our needs. It gives us the courage to keep going, no matter what happens, because we know that Love awaits us at the end of the journey. Jeanne Jugan had no money. But she had a big heart, common sense and great enthusiasm. She put them at the service of the poor and asked Divine Providence to provide the rest, sure that she would not be disappointed. Faced with huge challenges Jeanne often said, “If God is with us, it will be accomplished.”
CHARITY sets us on a joyful path toward God and neighbor. Jeanne often spoke about the love of God. But she did more than talk about it—she lived it by adhering to God’s will and giving herself without reserve, in good times and bad.

It was said of Jeanne Jugan that her charity was “heroic,” that she “worked miracles of charity,” that she “had a genius for charity.”

  • FAITH enabled Jeanne to see God in the elderly.
  • Through HOPE she knew that God would not abandon the poor.
  • Through LOVE she gave all she had to the poor, in imitation of Jesus who gave his life for love of us.

Humility was Jeanne’s crown

“Show me a truly humble person, and I will say that he is truly saintly and … that God is greatly glorified in him.” This was the teaching of St. John Eudes, Jeanne’s spiritual father. “Humility is that virtue which makes Saints, great Saints,” he wrote. How well these words apply to Jeanne Jugan!

She demonstrated great humility in identifying herself with the forsaken, taking their burdens upon herself and going out to beg in their place. And she was heroic in allowing herself to be set aside and forgotten. It was said of Jeanne that humility was the essence of her being. It was the secret of her sanctity!

For many years Jeanne was hidden away, as if buried alive. But eventually the veil was lifted. Pope John XXIII had already seen the light in 1939 when he expressed his desire to see Jeanne Jugan canonized:

“Every day I witness with my own eyes the edifying spectacle of the survival of the spirit of simplicity, humility and inexhaustible and trusting generosity that the Little Sisters still offer today in Constantinople… It is as though certain traits of their blessed Mother Foundress shine in each one of them … Spontaneously and wholeheartedly, I express the desire that this new light of life and of Christian perfection be removed from under the bushel and placed up high so that all the world may see it and give glory to our Heavenly Father.…”

Thanks to his successors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, good Pope John’s desire has at last been fulfilled … God has lifted up the lowly!