Little Sisters of the Poor

The Little Sisters of the Poor were founded in the nineteenth century by Jeanne Jugan in Brittany, France. Following the spirit of Jeanne Jugan, the Little Sisters of the Poor devote their lives to helping the elderly poor. Currently, there are over 202 homes in 32 countries around the world. Within the United States there are 3 Provinces containing 31 homes total. The Little Sisters of the Poor at the St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in Richmond, Virginia belong to the Baltimore Province.

On October 14, 1874 six Sisters arrived in Richmond, Virginia from Brittany, France to help the elderly with the “poverty and hardships” of the Civil War. Although this was not the first time the Little Sisters of the Poor could be found in America, with the first foundation in Brooklyn, New York in 1869, it was the first time the Little Sisters could be found in Virginia. The Sisters started St. Sophia’s Home, near St. Peters Church on the corner of the 9 th Street and Marshall Street. Between 1874 and 1877, more Little Sisters joined the Order, which called for a larger home. Through Bishop Gibbons’ direction, a four story mansion on the corner of Harvie Street and Floyd Avenue was donated to the Little Sisters of the Poor on June 24, 1877. Even during the nineteenth century the Little Sisters of the Poor welcomed all elderly regardless of race/ethnicity or religious affiliation, a concept that was revolutionary at the time. St. Sophia’s on Harvie and Floyd was modified, enlarged and renovated to fit the growing needs of the elderly residents over the years. However, in 1970 St. Sophia’s facility was too old to meet the building codes and regulations for an assisted living facility. Through the help of friends and prayers to St. Joseph, the Sisters were able to raise enough money to build a new facility. The Little Sisters moved to 1503 Michaels Road in Henrico County in July, 1976. They named the new facility St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in honor of the Providence of St. Joseph. The old facility, St. Sophia’s on Harvie and Floyd, was later converted into the Warsaw Condominiums. St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged originally offered assisted living and intermediate nursing care, but with the addition of the Jeanne Jugan Pavilion in 2002, St. Joseph’s also offers independent living. The current community of Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged consists of eleven Sisters with American and Spanish cultural backgrounds. They range in ages from 31-89.

St. Joseph ’s Home for the Aged consists of two buildings. The main building holds 22 rooms in the intermediate nursing wing and 49 rooms in the assisted living wing; the Jeanne Jugan Pavilion holds 22 independent living apartments. The main building houses the chapel, an activities department, an arts and crafts area, an auditorium, a beauty salon, kitchenettes for residents’ use, a resident library, two dining rooms, a kitchen, offices, and a gift shop. The Jeanne Jugan Pavilion has a fitness center. Above the chapel is the convent in which the Little Sisters of the Poor reside. The chapel has stained glass lining the walls and a television circuit that allows residents who are unable to attend Mass to participate from their rooms. Various pieces of artwork acquired mostly through donations and gifts to the Little Sisters line the walls. Statues with sitting areas are scattered throughout the property, including a statue of Jeanne Jugan that was donated by the Motherhouse in France.

Although the Sisters lead an apostolic lifestyle, they also share aspects of contemplative life, such as silence during meals and continual times for prayer and spiritual readings throughout their day. The Little Sisters rise at 5:45 and join in the Meditation on the Word of God in the Chapel. At 7:00 and 7:15 they have Morning Report and Morning Prayer, respectively. After Morning Prayer in the Chapel, the Sisters have breakfast at their dining room within the private Convent. After breakfast the Sisters perform their daily duties. At 11:00 every day the Sisters have public Mass in the Chapel, followed by time for personal prayer. The Sisters have lunch and community time at 1:00. At 2:15 the Sisters have time reserved for personal prayer or their daily duties within St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged. At 3:00 they have the evening report followed by more time for personal prayer and daily duties at 3:15. The Sisters have evening prayer in the Chapel at 5:30, which includes Rosary prayer. Following evening prayer is additional time for personal prayer and daily duties at 6:00. At 7:15 the Sisters have supper followed by community time. The Sisters have night prayer followed by grand silence at 8:30 in the chapel. The Sisters turn out their lights at 10:00 every evening. The Sunday schedule is the same except the Sisters celebrate the Exposition with the Rosary at 4:30. During the course of the day each Little Sister prays Daytime Prayer, the Rosary Prayer, has time for spiritual reading and makes a half-hour visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel on her own. Once a week, the Sisters have “study night” in order to study the Bible, church documents or other spiritual or practical subjects. Once a month each Sister has a day of prayer that allows her to suspend the normal routine to spend more time with the Lord. Once every month each Sister has a day off from the normal schedule to spend as she wishes. Once a year, each Sister is required to take an eight-day and a three-day silent retreat. The Little Sisters of the Poor take their retreats at various places outside of St. Joseph’s, including The Visitation of the Holy Mary Monte Maria in Rockville, Virginia.

The Little Sisters of the Poor celebrate all American holidays and all holydays. To celebrate their holydays and feasts the Sisters speak openly at meals, which are normally reserved for silence. The Little Sisters also will have deserts at their meals, order pizza and watch spiritual films or nature documentaries. Some celebrations are distinctive to the Little Sisters. On October 13, the Sisters celebrate the anniversary of their arrival in Richmond. On August 30, they celebrate the feast of their Foundress, Jeanne Jugan. On December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Sisters renew their vows. The Little Sisters of the Poor have a council that consists of the Mother Superior and two other Sisters that make decisions for the community. If the input of the whole community is needed, a community council is called.

The Little Sisters of the Poor operate and maintain St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged with the help of a paid and volunteer staff. There is no cost to the residents of St. Joseph’s. While St. Joseph’s receives some funds to offset costs in the form of resident pensions, Social Security, Medicaid and other government funding, the majority of assets comes from generous donations from the surrounding community. In the spirit of Jeanne Jugan, the Little Sisters go into the surrounding community to beg for contributions to keep St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in operation. They receive monetary donations as well as clothing, food, and services. The donations from the surrounding community attribute to about sixty percent of the operating funds. All the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States also network with each other to send surplus supplies from one order to other orders in need. The Little Sisters of the Poor are part of the Vocation Committee at their parish, St. Bridget’s Catholic Church. As part of their mission, they speak at schools about their vocation, volunteering opportunities, and the concepts of death and dying from their perspective.

The Little Sisters of the Poor offer public Mass everyday at 11:00 in their chapel. The Benedictine Monks of the Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Goochland come everyday to serve as the Little Sisters Chaplain. Typically around 60 people attend their public Mass. The Little Sisters of the Poor also perform baptisms, First Communion and Confirmation, as well as witness the residents’ renewal of their vows within the chapel.

Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged
1503 Michaels Road
Richmond, VA 23229-4899

Little Sisters of the Poor nursing administrator
Little Sisters of the Poor Richmond website
Little Sisters of the Poor main website

Profiled prepared by Amanda Tellefsen
October, 2009