Saint Jeanne Jugan in the eyes of those who knew her
“There is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”
Judging from the examples that the Servant of God has left us, I believe that she practiced the theological virtues, as well as the other virtues, to a heroic degree.
Her appearance was a living lesson in all the virtues, especially that of littleness. But just seeing her, inspired us with love of God and humble and hidden life.
I have never forgotten her kindness to us. We had been told that we could always speak to her when we met her, and whenever she was brought to the “grand salle” she would often ask to see the Little Sister postulants from America. Some of the others would say that they were jealous because she liked the Americans. She would reply that that wasn’t fair because they were the first missionaries of the little family, and that they had crossed the wide ocean, being sixteen days at sea; that it was heroic for young girls to come from so far away, to say good-bye to their parents, their country and even to make the sacrifice of their own language in order to come here to prepare for the life of a Little Sister. It needed a double vocation. She was full of attentions for us and was anxious to learn if we were warm enough, if we ate enough, saying that we should not be afraid to ask for anything we needed.
I was much edified by her deep humility and by her love for the poor. I have treasured my memory of her through all my life and have always considered her to be a saint. One would notice how happy she was when she had others around her to listen to her speak about the poor old folk: “My little ones,” she would say to us, “Never forget that the poor are Our Lord.”
Sister Mary of the Cross was truly a fervent religious in every meaning of the word.… At every halt in our walks, she used to make various remarks to us … now on devotedness, now on always seeing God in our good elderly people. Or again, it would be about the task of the collecting: to be very grateful: “Thank you, good Sir, and thank you, good Madam, we shall pray for you, and not just a promise but do it, be faithful to that.…”
At recreation we used to go out into the novitiate garden. There were some wild rose bushes there. She said to me, “You see these rose bushes? They’re growing wild. You too are growing wild but, if you allow yourself to be well formed, you will become a beautiful rose fashioned by the love of God; but you must let yourself be humiliated. Instead of turning in on yourself, you must turn towards God.”
She was very humble, and I never heard her speak of any good that she had done; she never spoke about herself. Her bearing was humble and modest and she always had the air of being composed and recollected. She was so obedient, so little, that it was enough for us to see her obey and humble herself to want to try to act like her. Ordinarily, her eyes would be cast down; she loved working, even when she had become enfeebled by old age, nonetheless, she knitted in the sewing room. She was a living example of the Rule. She loved to efface herself and pass unnoticed. She was very humble and always listened to what the least of the novices had to say.
She was always joyful and even-tempered. She used to give us very good advice. She often spoke to us about the presence of God within us, in the tabernacle and in the poor. Her love for the poor was boundless, and she had given her whole life for them, right to the end.
She once said to me, “I’m going to tell you three thoughts; if you make them part of your life, you will become a great saint: the just man lives by faith; charity covers a multitude of sins, and she who keeps guard over her tongue keeps guard over her soul.” I have very often thought over her wise advice.
At first sight, she struck me as being very stern, but she approached us with such motherly kindness that very soon any fear we might have felt quite disappeared. I think she had a soft spot for the new postulants, and by means of some kind thoughts inspired by faith, she would encourage us to make our first sacrifices generously. “My children, you love Our Lady; she will be your Mother.”
Sister Mary of the Cross would take pleasure in showing me how to make various herbal medicines for the sick, and also other little practices of good nursing, as well as little practical hints to make a Little Sister devoted to the task of collecting, but also discreet and prudent.
I always believed her to be a great saint. During our novitiate, I had the good fortune to assist her up the stairs. Each time she would thank me: “I am going to say a Hail Mary, or else a Memorare.” That would help me greatly in the sacrifices which, sometimes, used to cost me something to make. I always had great confidence in her good prayers.
Every time that I watched Sister Mary of the Cross, she seemed to me to be absorbed in God, deep in profound recollection.
To a comparison made concerning a hawk which swooped down on a little bird with no means of escape, Sister Mary of the Cross said that we would have no more strength against temptation than that little bird had against the hawk, were not God to give us his help, and that we should be convinced of this when asking him for it—but that this should also increase our trust, since it is by God’s power that we can triumph.
Sometimes when we would be going through the fields or the gardens, the sight of a flower or something else drew her attention and she would say to me, “Do you know who made that?” To my reply that it was God, she would look at me with great kindness and say, with an expression of gratitude for our holy vocation in a way that greatly struck me, “It was our Spouse.”
On one occasion she said to us, “Look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph, you see, my little ones, how the three of them loved each other, how happy they looked. With what kindness and gentleness they spoke to one another. In our little family it must be the same.”
I have never forgotten these words of advice from Sister Mary of the Cross: Have recourse to him in all your troubles and difficulties. He is there for you in all our houses. Go and find him when your strength and patience are giving out and you feel yourself alone and helpless. Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Say to him, ‘You know what is happening, my good Jesus, I have only you and you know everything. Come to my aid.’ And then go, and don’t worry about how you are going to manage. it is enough to have told our good Lord. He has a good memory.”
I always saw her smiling. For her, nothing counted any more except God’s will.
She often told us, “My little ones, we should always be cheerful, for our old people do not like long faces.” –
Everything about her inspired others to love the hidden life and humility.
She lived in the presence of God and always spoke to us about him. On meeting us she would say, “Do your work for God alone.” One felt that she spoke from the abundance of her heart. She was always quite simple, always serene, and one felt the presence of God in her soul. She never spoke about herself, either for good or for ill.
She wanted us to be joyful in the service of God.
Whenever she would meet us she always had a little word about God: “Work well for God.” She would often recommend to us devotedness, charity and great kindness towards the poor: “They are the suffering members of Our Lord.” I always saw her with a calm and serene expression in her infirmities.
I heard her say to us on various occasions, “Accustom yourselves to doing well whatever you do, so that later on, when you are with the good old people, you will look after them well, because it is Jesus whom you care for in them.”
Another day she said to me, “Later on, if you are with the old people, be kind, very kind. Be like a mother for them. And if you are doing the cooking for them, ah, there especially, how much good you can accomplish by preparing their meals well. Make them a good soup and make it very tasty. A cook must often taste her soup and her meals and everything she prepares, otherwise the food turns out to be only half-cooked, or with too much salt, or none at all. The old men and ladies grumble and God is not pleased. Here, you can really learn to be a good cook.”
She used only to speak to us about God. Oh! If only you could have seen her when she would repeat, “Love God very much.” There was something in her which drew one along, you could feel that she lived in God, as we used to say, and it did us good. She would say to us, “Ah! nothing is unimportant in religious life, everything is important; one must do everything for love of God.”
Photos: The people of Saint Jeanne Jugan’s birthplace came out in full force to honor their compatriot to celebrate her canonization. They are shown here in native Breton costumes.