The Little Sisters of the Poor

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic order of nuns founded by Jeanne Jurgan. Born in Cancale , France in 1792, Jurgan grew up in a poor, but religious family. As a young woman, she earned money by working as a maid servant and nurse in the larger town of Saint Servan . Jurgan began residing with two other pious women in a small house in 1837,. Two years later, she encountered a disabled and destitute elderly woman on the streets of Saint Servan. Jurgan took the old woman into her home and began caring for her with the help of the other two women. The three women soon began bringing more of Saint Servan’s impoverished and ill- elderly into their home. With the clerical blessing of Father le Pailleur, the women took their vows to become nuns in 1843, and they included an additional fourth vow of hospitality in order to better serve the elderly. Now established as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jurgan was named as Mother Superior.

Jurgan’s appointment as Mother Superior only lasted weeks before Father le Pailleur replaced her with a much younger nun. After Jurgan was requested to retire from active participation in the Little Sisters of the Poor by Father le Pailleur, she faded into the background of the order. Even with Jurgan no longer actively involved, the Little Sisters grew rapidly over the next three decades. The purpose of the Little Sisters (to provide compassionate care for the elderly, regardless of race, religion, or monetary means) made it an extremely valuable group socially.

In 1851, the Little Sisters of the Poor was established in England and spread throughout Europe soon thereafter. The order came to the United States in 1868, initially locating in New York City . Over the succeeding decades, the Little Sisters established themselves in various other American cities, including Cleveland in 1870, Detroit in 1873 and Richmond in 1874. When Jeanne Jurgan died in 1879, the Little Sisters of the Poor had grown from three to 2, 400 nuns and from one house to over 170 in Europe and the United States .

After Jurgan’s death, the Little Sisters continued to grow and established a house in Calcutta , India in 1882. Unfortunately, by this time, Jurgan was no longer being recognized as the foundress of the order. In 1902, after an apostolic inquiry ordered by the Vatican was conducted, Jurgan was once again recognized for her work as the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She was officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1979 for her works of compassion with the elderly poor; she was officially beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is currently established in thirty two countries, with thirty two homes in the United States and Canada . Many Little Sister homes established in the nineteenth century still exist today. This includes Richmond’s St. Joseph Home, located in the West End, which is the modern incarnation of the St. Sophia Home that was once located in the Fan District.

Leroy, A., History of the Little Sisters of the Poor. London : Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1906. Internet Archieve. 23 Nov. 2007. < >

Profile prepared by Erica Johnson
December, 2007.