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Little Sisters: Serving the elderly poor

November 19, 2015
Sister Rose Veronica, lsp and Maria Cunningham, Director of Development

Catholic San Francisco is featuring one religious congregation from the archdiocese in each installment of this periodic column marking the Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life.

Although life now is different than that of the first Little Sisters of the Poor who arrived in San Francisco in 1901, some things never change – the elderly poor still need a home and we continue to be blessed by the kindness of people who support our mission.

The traditions passed down to us from our Mother Foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, remain alive and present in our mission and in our daily lives. St. Jeanne Jugan supported her work for the elderly by begging for food and supplies for their care. This tradition remains at the core of our congregation and each of our homes has a Little Sister assigned to the task of begging. Little Sisters go out daily to produce markets, fish markets and even Safeway to ask for donations of food and other necessities for the residents in our homes.

The charism of our congregation is to rely on God’s divine providence as manifested through the generosity of the good people in our communities, and divine providence has never failed us. As calls to vocation have lessened in recent years, we have been blessed with collaborators who understand our ongoing needs, whether it be our benefactors, devoted staff, auxiliary volunteers, Association Jeanne Jugan members or our board of advisors.  These special partners have joined us in our journey of caring for the elderly during the last stages of life by sharing talents that range from hands-on assistance to fundraising to building maintenance.   

Our first home for the elderly in the United States was established in Brooklyn, New York, in 1868.  Thirty-three years later, Archbishop Riordan prepared for the Little Sisters’ arrival in San Francisco and leased a three-story building at 2030 Howard St. for the first home on the West Coast.  Within the first year, this residence became too small and a larger building was needed.  In 1904, through the generosity of friend and benefactor, Edward Joseph Le Breton, St. Anne’s Home opened at its current location on Lake Street. Since then, thousands of elderly men and women of all faiths, nationalities and backgrounds have been welcomed through the doors of St. Anne’s Home.

The needs of the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Francisco in the early 20th century centered around helping many of the elderly left homeless as the result of the 1906 earthquake, as well as providing shelter to others who sought refuge, often with only the clothes on their back. In the 21st century, the needs of the Little Sisters still center around our elderly who without St. Anne’s Home might also find themselves homeless.  However, today it is not because of a natural disaster, it is because San Francisco, as one of America’s most expensive cities, makes it very difficult for many of our elderly poor to continue to support themselves.  That, in addition to lovingly assisting with the needs associated with aging, is where St. Anne’s Home is grateful to be able to fill a void, providing a home where the elderly in need join us as family and are cared for with dignity and respect.

Much has changed since the birth of our congregation, when St. Jeanne Jugan helped the needy elderly in the streets of St. Servan, France, during the French Revolution. We have survived earthquakes, world wars and the Great Depression, welcomed the automobile and the airplane, and entered the computer era, which changed how we all live, making our world so much smaller.  For us, however, these are simply all common denominators in confirming the reality in the words of St. Jeanne Jugan:  “If God is with us it will be accomplished ... God will help us, the work is his.”


Little Sisters of the Poor

Founded: Brittany, France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan, whose work began when she took an elderly, blind and paralyzed woman into her home, placed her in her own bed and cared for her with love and respect.

Arrival in archdiocese: 1901

Mission: To offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.

Current service: Caring for the marginalized elderly in 31 countries. At St. Anne’s Home eight Little Sisters care for the elderly of the San Francisco Bay Area fulltime.

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