Reflecting on the idea of obedience, many people this week have mentioned the case of Padre Pio. Others have brought up Mother Mary McKillop, who humbly submitted to being excommunicated and was later declared a saint.
I’d like to add another name: the woman who founded The Little Sisters of Poor, Jeanne Jugan.
From the website of the order she founded:
Many years went by before Jeanne discovered her vocation. Finally, one cold winter night she met Jesus Christ in the person of an elderly, blind and infirm woman who had no one to care for her. Jeanne carried the woman home, climbed up the stairs to her small apartment and placed her in her own bed. From then on, Jeanne would sleep in the attic.
God led more poor old people to her doorstep. Generous young women came to help. Like Jeanne, they wanted to make a difference. Like her, they believed that “the poor are Our Lord.” A religious community was born!
There were so many old people in need of a home, so many souls hungry for love! The work rapidly spread across France and beyond. Struck by their spirit of humble service, local citizens dubbed the group the Little Sisters of the Poor. The name stuck!
For herself Jeanne chose the religious name Sister Mary of the Cross. She would live it in its fullness.
The work of the Little Sisters continued to spread, borne by the wind of the Spirit. So did Jeanne’s renown – until one day she was mysteriously cast aside by an ambitious priest who had taken over the direction of the young community.
Jeanne was replaced as superior and sent out begging on behalf of the poor. And then one day she was placed in retirement, relegated to the shadows. At the time of her death 27 years later, the young Little Sisters didn’t even know that she was the foundress.
Jeanne had often told them, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” How she lived these words! What a radiant example of holiness she gave to generations of Little Sisters!
What is notably absent from St. Jeanne Jugan’s story — and for all the others — is any rancor, rage, public protest or defiance of a perceived injustice. Padre Pio, on being told he was being stripped of his faculties, replied, “God’s will be done. The will of the authorities is the will of God.”
While this caused immense suffering for Pio, which was confided privately to his friend and former teacher, Padre Agostino, he did not complain or make objections, especially in a public way. Padre Agostino asked him how he spent his time and Pio replied, “I pray and I study as much as I can, and then I annoy my Brothers.” Pio went on to elaborate that he jokes with his brothers. With regards to study, he spent much time in Sacred Scripture, and he especially studied the Fathers of the Church.
There are abundant lessons here from the saints, if anybody cares to listen.
As we so often hear at ordinations, in the Litany of the Saints: “All you holy men and women, pray for us!”
We need it. Now, more than ever.