Testimony of a novice

“Never forget that the poor are Our Lord.”
These are words of our foundress Blessed Jeanne Jugan and I would like to share with you my joy as a Little Sister of the Poor.   My name is Sr. Mary Emmanuel, and I’m a novice.  I’m currently spending six weeks in our home for the elderly in Dublin as part of my formation.  We are apostolic religious and our mission in the Church is one of humble service to the elderly poor.

ImageFollowing the example of Jeanne Jugan, we welcome the most needy aged, suffering from poverty, physical dependence or solitude and take them into one of our homes throughout the world to care for them, uniting residents and Little Sisters as one family.  We strive to fulfil their needs with love and respect, providing security right up to their last breath. 

We see our apostolate as a great grace from God who, in Jesus, identified himself with the weak: “In so far as you did this to the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”  In our ageing society where the elderly often live in fear, we feel privileged to give our lives to console and rejoice the hidden Christ in them.  We rely on Providence to provide the means to accomplish our work, and St. Joseph, our protector, to whom we pray daily, has been faithful since the Congregation began in 1839.

"God wants me for Himself!” (Jeanne Jugan)

Raised in England, I was blessed to receive the Catholic faith from my mother.  I left home for university and in my first year fell in love, then……  At 7pm on Friday 18th August 2000 in Rome I received my vocation !  I was part of a group attending the World Youth Day and Pope John Paul II had spoken twice about Our Lady’s “Fiat!” at the Annunciation.  Well, I was in my room, which I was sharing with several other pilgrims, and this phrase: “Say ‘Yes!’ to God” kept turning in my head.  I began wondering how I’d feel if I were to think about becoming a nun and something deep inside me said “Yes!”  That instant I was filled with such an indescribable, powerful joy; I was buzzing with energy!  The following day, while waiting for the Papal Mass to begin, one of the Brothers of St John who was leading our group turned to me and asked if I’d ever considered the religious life…  I heard myself replying “Yes!” without hesitation, and for me this was the voice of the Holy Spirit confirming my experience the night before.

“We must always say: Blessed be God!” (Jeanne Jugan)

ImageThroughout my next two years at university I never doubted that God had called me, but I didn’t know where he wanted me to serve him.  I applied for jobs like everyone else and got a post as a trainee accountant in London for January 2003.  Since this meant that I had the autumn free, I wrote to several religious communities in France for a volunteer placement to further my discernment and to improve my French, which I’d enjoyed at school.  The Little Sisters of the Poor replied first and I found myself on a train to Lille, knowing very little about what I’d be doing.  I settled in quickly and as the weeks passed it was evident to all that I was growing happier and happier.  After all my hard studying, I was delighted to discover how easy it is to bring joy to others just by smiling and lending a hand.  I was pleased to contribute by playing the organ and singing in the chapel and to help with the computer in the surgery.

Previously I had been drawn to the contemplative life, but there I realised how fulfilling the apostolic life can be.  I felt I was developing in many ways, particularly in interpersonal skills, and was truly giving all of myself to God through my work for the residents.  After a month, the Mother Superior permitted me to spend three days with the community in the convent part of the house and this opened my eyes to the contemplative aspect of our life, which isn’t always apparent to visitors.

ImageI was struck by how monastic the Little Sisters’ life in the convent was: the rooms were simply decorated and silence observed, and I joined the Little Sisters for their early meditation to begin the day, then later for their meals in the refectory and the times of recreation.  I realised that it was this hidden contemplation that enabled them to cope with all the bustle of life in the nursing home.  When the time came it was a very tearful farewell as I knew I had discovered my vocation, but the Superior advised me to move to London to begin my job so that I could experience working.

“You love Our Lady?  She will be your Mother!” (Jeanne Jugan)

With my heart in France, earning money and the further study seemed to me so pointless that I resigned after eight months.  Telling my parents of my decision was not easy.  I’m an only child, and with my mother disabled and my father elderly, I knew I was asking them to make a big sacrifice.  I kept putting it off, until one night I promised Our Lady that I’d tell my mum before Mass the next morning, and I only managed to get the words out as the priest was processing into the church!  They found my decision rushed and being only 22, they begged me to give them a year to come to terms with it.  Since I had left my training contract, the Little Sisters employed me as a carer in their home in London and I travelled home regularly to see my parents.  

During this time my prayer life developed with a great thirst for daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration and I recited the Divine Office and the Rosary.  I was supported too by one of the resident priests in Lille who became my spiritual director.

“Love God very much.  All for Him!” (Jeanne Jugan)

After postulancy in Orleans, I’m now a novice at our Motherhouse and Novitiate at La Tour Saint Joseph in the Brittany countryside.  We pray, work and study in beautiful buildings and grounds where our Mother Jeanne Jugan lived and is buried.  It’s a time to develop a deep, personal union with Christ, the foundations of our whole religious life.  We are eight novices preparing to pronounce the usual religious vows, with a special fourth one of hospitality, before being sent to one of our 206 homes.  The elderly need our love; if you feel God is calling you, trust in him – you will not regret it!!

“Commit your life to the Lord…and He will act!”