On Saturday, July 22, two novices made their profession as Little Sisters of the Poor at our novitiate in Queens Village, NY. Sr Mary Gerard (pictured on the bishop’s right), originally from upstste New York, received her first assignment for our home in Palatine, Illinois. Sr Faustina Clare (pictured on the bishop’s left), from southern Maryland, has been assigned to our home in Philadelphia. Two new novices were received into the Congregation the previous day.
Most Rev. James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn-Queens, NY was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass.
Homily of Bishop James Massa
Rom 12: Call, Community and Cross
- Permit me to begin by thanking Mother Provincial Alice Marie and her council, Mother Superior Mary Richard and all the Sisters of the Queen of Peace Residence and St. Ann’s Novitiate, for the kind invitation to celebrate this Mass of Temporary Profession. To you both, Sister Faustina Clare and Sister Mary Gerard, I offer the congratulations of the Church here in Brooklyn and Queens, and beyond, for having arrived at this moment of your discernment. To your parents, Stephen and Julia, Bradley and Grace, and to all the members of your families, I give also thanks for the gift of the two of you to this humble and powerful vocation as a Little Sister of the Poor. Truly, may the Lord who has begun this good work in you at first vows bring it to completion.
- What gathers us here today are three great mysteries of consecrated life, which I believe you can find found in your respective journeys, Sr. Mary Gerard and Sr. Faustina Clare: the call, the community and the Cross. Each of these mysteries may be said to define the vows professed by every Little Sister of the Poor. Each of these mysteries also belongs to the life and witness of your remarkable foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan.
- Since her canonization in 2011, the life of Jeanne Jugan has become more widely disseminated throughout the Church. Not long ago, I found myself taken up with her story, which Pope Benedict XVI described at her canonization as a balm for the wounds of our age. The call to found a new community dedicated to the elderly poor unfolded gradually in Jeanne’s life. During her teenage years when she was a kitchen maid of the Viscountessde la Choue, a young man pursued her hand in marriage. She said no at age 18, and then again at age 24. It was not because he was not a good man, an attractive man, or a man of means who could reverse the ill fortune that had fallen on her family since the death of her father at sea. It was not because Jeanne disdained marriage, but rather because she heard a different call—a summons to be a different kind of bride, adorned not with the fine jewelry that Isaiah describes in our first reading, but with the virtues of a disciple who follows the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Jeanne said to her mother, who must have been mystified by her persistence in refusing to marry: “God wants me for himself. He is keeping me for a work not yet founded.”
- Those last words “not yet founded” suggests that the call that Jeanne received would indeed unfold slowly over the course of many years, after much patient listening and discerning of the circumstances of her life. The call of God is mysterious, as Sisters Faustina Clare and Mary Gerard understand only too well. It must be tested by getting one’s hands dirty, something that happens a lot in the novitiate! It must be discerned through dialogue with the spiritual directors the community provides in the period of formation. It must be brought before the Lord: Can I love as you have loved me, as you say in our gospel, dear Lord? Can I be a chaste virgin for the Kingdom, just as you are, my beloved Jesus?
- The second mystery is that of community. The vocation of a Little Sister of the Poor cannot be lived alone. For sure, there were solitary moments in Jeanne’s long journey of service to the sick and the indigent. In her late twenties, she lived alone while working as a nurse in the town hospital of Saint-Servan. But this led to her becoming ill, and so she knew that a solitary life would not be hers to embrace. By 1837, Jeanne had formed the nascent community of Little Sisters made up of herself, the 72 year-old Françoise Aubert and the 17 year-old orphan Virginie Tredaniel. Centered on prayer, these three women devoted themselves to catechizing the young and tending to the sick poor. Then in the winter of 1839, Jeanne carried home in her arms an elderly blind and partially lame woman named Anne Chauvin. It wasn’t enough to go out and care for the sick poor. God was asking something else of these women: create a home for the elderly poor, live with them, help them die. Jeanne gave up her bed for Anne and slept in the attic.
- The founding of the Little Sisters dates back to the day in 1839 when a single act of mercy was made on behalf of an old blind woman. The world changed that day. A community was formed out of this one small sacrifice. One great act of love, shared within a community attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, began then to attract other young women who sought to care the elderly poor and the sick, to make of themselves what St. Paul calls in our second reading “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”
- How is this possible? Out of the giving of one’s self in love comes an immense joy that no one can steal. Little Sisters of the Poor are happy women precisely because they live from the living sacrifice of the Eucharist, which puts every believer in touch with the founding event of faith itself: the Cross of Jesus Christ. From this encounter with Christ’s self-offering at Mass, the Sisters are formed in a wisdom that St. Paul describes as “not of this age”—and we can add, or any other. Their minds and hearts are constantly being transformed by the love the Bridegroom has for them and for all of us, the love that is channeled from the saving event of the Cross to each one of us as we partake of the Eucharist. The Sisters live what Pope Francis calls the joy of the gospel in the way they honor one another’s distinct gifts and help build up every convent and nursing home they run. The elderly on whom they pour out God’s mercy, in countless ways, find in them a cheerfulness that heals.
- The third mystery is the Cross. No one who reads a biography of St. Jeanne Jugan can escape entering into the anguish of the cross she carried in the final decades of her life. In 1843 the community that Mother Jeanne had founded was stolen from beneath her by Abbé Auguste Le Pailleur. This power-hungry priest, whom church authorities would not catch up to until eleven years after Jeanne’s death, fixed an election of a superior whom he could manipulate and assigned Jeanne to beg on the streets. Within a short time, Le Pailleur forced Jeanne into retirement and a life of obscurity that would last twenty-three years until her death.
- Yet amid this quiet struggle Jeanne retained her peace and joy. That lovely anecdote about her in the final years, nearly blind, but smiling out her window at the young sisters going off to work, strikes me as a sign that she lived the whole paschal mystery, not just Good Friday, but Easter too! But her suffering also attests to the lesson that so many of us learn as we age, namely, that our own individual cross may be heaviest not when we are exhaustive from the burdens of daily work, but when we lose our ability to work. The residents of your nursing homes know this. The elderly Sisters know this. Still, as we are “grafted onto the cross,” Jeanne would tell us that we must “carry it joyfully unto death.”
- Joy is perhaps the ultimate mystery. So much of the world finds its joy in acquiring and dominating, whereas the Little Sisters of the Poor find their it in giving and serving. Herein lies the wisdom that remains hidden to the wise and learned, but is revealed to the friends of Jesus. It’s the wisdom that you possess, Sr. Mary Gerard and Sr. Faustina Clare. We are so grateful you have received the grace to make your profession. Now live the joy of the gospel within your new community, for the salvation of your souls, for the growth of Mother Church and this Congregation of Sisters, and for the glory of God—who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.