Walk into the dining hall of any home of the Little Sisters of the Poor on March 19, and you may see a number of priests, donned in white aprons, serving meals to the residents.
An annual tradition, the priests come to the home because March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, an important patron for the Little Sisters. At the Villa Guadalupe home run by the Little Sisters in the Diocese of Gallup, the feast day was marked this year by a Mass, celebrated by Bishop James Wall, with the concelebrating priests in attendance afterwards to serve the midday meal to the elderly. According to Mother Mary Thomas, the superior of Villa Guadalupe, the same activity was taking place in other homes across the world.
St. Joseph is held nearly in as high regard by the Little Sisters as their foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan. Depictions of both saints can be found prominently placed throughout homes run by the order.
“St. Jeanne Jugan took St. Joseph as the protector of the congregation, and we Little Sisters, each one of us carries his statue in our pocket,” said Mother Thomas. “When we make a profession, we each hold a statue of St. Joseph”. She described how she has carried her own statue with her for 27 years, since her first procession, and how she turns to St. Joseph in times of need.
“We place our trust in him. Even the Bishop, at the feast day Mass, talked about trust, in St. Joseph and in Divine Providence. And that’s what St. Jugan told us, that if we confide all our material needs and spiritual needs to the intercession of St. Joseph, he will never fail us. He always comes through!”
Mother Thomas describes an example of devotion from the early days of the order. Sisters working in the kitchen would place the peelings of apples and other food needed for meals in front of a statue of St. Joseph, and would receive the items they needed as a result of their prayers.
Recently, a dog that the sisters had adopted for the residents went missing from the property. For this, too, they turned to their patron.
“You know, we lost our dog, Maxie, and so we had a note in front of St. Joseph: ‘St. Joseph, bring her back’. We always pray a special novena on Wednesday, especially during the month of March since it is St. Joseph’s month. And on Wednesday morning someone brought her back.”
By inviting priests to join them for service on their patron’s feast day, the Sisters hope to spread the spirit of devotion to the elderly started so many years ago by St. Jeanne Jugan.
“This tradition had been going on for some time,” Mother Thomas said. “We Sisters wanted priests to share our mission – to show service. That’s why we give them the apron to put on. It’s a sign of service to them, a sign of service to somebody else.”
The priests were joined this year by a youth group from Wichita, led by their pastor, who had come to work at the home during their Spring Break. As they took meal orders and carried plates, the visitors laughed and conversed with one another, and with the elderly residents they served.
“You know, it’s a privilege that they get to do the serving and that the residents get priests serving them. Maybe they get tired of looking at us – we serve them every day, all three meals!” She laughs, and then, perhaps referring to the priests, the residents, or both groups at once, says, “It’s good for them. It’s something special.”