Jeanne Jugan was born in Brittany, France, in the late 18 century. Her father died when she was young and this forced Jeanne's mother and sisters to take care of the large Jugan family. She was devoted to her family and helped to provide for their needs in whatever ways she could. As the sixth of eight children, however, she was one of the younger ones. She wasn't called to be a surrogate mother but, rather, a little sister to her family.
When she was sixteen, she took a job as a maid for a local countess. These circumstances could have been bad for Jeanne--as they had been for so many other young women--but the countess was a devoted Christian who saw a kindred spirit in young Jeanne. The countess was very active in visiting the sick and the needy and providing for their various needs. Though Jeanne was hired as a kitchen-maid, at the request of the countess she began traveling with her to visit the sick and poor and assist in providing for their needs.The older countess used her young maid to help her in providing the love and support needed by those they visited. Jeanne was not called to be a countess and benefactor but, rather, a little sister to the countess.
They, too, recognized a similarity in each other and began to work together intimately to provide for the poor and unfortunate in the area. Further, under the elderly lady's direction, they began to teach catechesis to the interested children in the community. This was a chance for Jeanne to serve as a leader to some but still be guided by those whom she loved and who loved her. Jeanne did teach the faith to the people and was, in many ways, a teacher at heart but she was not called to be a schoolmaster but, rather, a little sister to her elderly friend until she died and went to her rest in God.
Jeanne would, then, join with another elderly lady--Francoise Aubert--to rent a small cottage. They were joined by Virginie Tredaniel--a seventeen-year-old orphaned girl. These three women joined together in regular prayer and reflection. Their small Christian community offered hospitality to any who might request it and offered teaching to all who were interested. Upon one occasion, Jeanne brought a blind widow into their home and slept on the floor so that the widow could sleep in her bed. As she slept on the floor and her widowed friend slept comfortably for the first time in who knows how long, she felt the call that had been on her life for so long. She was not called to succeed by the standards of the world but, rather, to be a little sister to widows and the elderly. Any elderly woman was welcome and well-provided for in their home. They were fed and loved. This community would daily and beg for assistance to provide for those in their care. They became known as the "Little Sisters of the Poor."
When Jeanne died, in 1879, there were nearly 2500 little sisters spread across the world providing assistance, love, and hospitality to widows and the elderly. In all things, Jeanne lived by an ethic of love and sacrifice for others. She had learned from an early age that Christians should be known for their love and that there was far more to love than words and good intentions. She was a little sister to many and an example to all.