Little Sister of the Poor celebrates 60 years of profession

Sister Paul Mary of the Cross, lsp (Little Sisters of the Poor photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — A Mass at the Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Center Chapel June 10 honored 88 year-old Sister Paul Mary of the Cross, lsp., on the 60th Jubilee of her profession. The Mass was celebrated by Father Martin Mannion, a friend and former resident chaplain at the Little Sisters home for the elderly in St. Louis, which closed in 2018. Sr. Paul had also worked at the home for a number of years.

Fathers Phil Luebbert, chaplain at the Jeanne Jugan Center, and resident priests James Hart and John J. McCormack concelebrated the Mass. Twenty three residents, six Little Sisters and Mother Margaret, resident Superior, were in attendance at the Mass with five residents watching from the floor above the chapel. Sr. Paul’s nieces, Mother Fedelma, lsp., of the Little Sisters of the Poor community in Agen, France, and Eithne Lee, of Warwickshire, England, traveled from their homes to celebrate with their aunt. The nieces, who are sisters, told stories and shared biographical information about Sr. Paul, who suffered a stroke about a year ago and no longer speaks plainly.

Sr. Paul was born in Dublin, Ireland, one of four children in a devoutly Catholic family. Her brother Robin is living in Dublin; her sister and other brother, Eithne and Mother Fidelma’s father, are deceased.

After completing her education, she and her best friend worked in the Civil Service while considering calls to the religious life. The two friends entered the Little Sisters of the Poor in Dublin on the same day. Sister Margaret Mary of the Cross, lsp., remains Sr. Paul’s best friend and lives at one of the Little Sisters homes in the U.S.

Fr. Mannion noted in his homily that the First Reading that day, Genesis 12: 1 – 4, was “apropos as it tells us of your journey to our land. The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. …’”

Sr. Paul was given the religious name Sister Paul Mary of the Cross when she professed temporary vows as a novice. She made her permanent profession of vows June 10, 1959, vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and hospitality. After a six month stay at a Little Sisters home in Glasgow, Scotland, she embarked on a cattle boat sailing for the United States. The crossing, during the early winter of 1960, took a month, a month of cold, wet and being by herself. Once in her new country, she found her way to the Little Sisters home in Queens, NY, where she had been assigned and started to work.

Holding a lit candle for her aunt, Mother Fidelma spoke for Sr. Paul as she renewed her vows. “In the presence of the Blessed Trinity and of Mary Immaculate, I, Sr. Paul Mary of the Cross, renew with all my heart my profession of the evangelical counsels, which I made for the first time on June 10, 1959, and promise God to observe faithfully the vows of Chastity, Poverty, Obedience and Hospitality which have made forever in the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

For years, Sr. Paul faithfully wrote home each month, and Mother Fidelma recalled when she and Eithne were young teenagers, they would anxiously await each letter, then gather with their brothers and sisters around their mother or father as the precious letter was read. Sr. Paul’s letters were always filled with stories, Mother Fidelma said. Eithne said her aunt also wrote of the challenges she faced, typically to provide residents what they needed while maintaining the homes while living her vocation but, she said, “there was never a ‘woe is me!’ It was always, ‘God will provide.’” Mother Fedelma added, “There was this sense of adventure in her letters, a sense that attracted me to the Little Sisters.”

Before the Second Vatican Council, Mother Fidelma said, Little Sisters assigned to homes and centers in countries far from their homeland, never returned. That changed after Vatican II, she said. Thirteen years after leaving Ireland, Sr. Paul was able to return to Dublin for a visit in 1972, the first time she and her nieces met. While at home, she was available to everyone, except for the time each evening when “she would disappear for prayer,” Mother Fidelma remembered. “She never preached, she hardly even mentioned the Gospel, but she preached it by the way she lived and the way she treated all she met.” Eithne added, “She could be formidable, but you knew she was filled with joy.”

Sr. Paul was always moving around, from home to home, state to state, wherever she was needed and asked for, her nieces said. “That was where her vow of obedience came in,” Eithne said. Over the years she worked in Little Sisters’ homes for the elderly poor in New York, Maryland, Ohio and Missouri to name a few. There are Little Sisters homes in 30 cities throughout the U.S., as well as in Europe, Asia, South America, Oceania and Africa.

Mother Margaret of the Kansas City Little Sisters said, “Sr. Paul was a wonderful hospitaler, nothing was too good or too much for her residents,” while patting Sr. Paul on the knee.

“Oh yes,” Eithne added, “even before therapy dogs were known to benefit people, Sr. Paul had a dog in one of her homes. She was an opportunist, always wanting to find ways to make the residents happy.”

Mother Fidelma looked fondly at her aunt, who was surrounded by residents and staff members, and commented, “Sixty years a Little Sister, 60 years well-lived.”

Eithne thought for a moment. “Joy would be my word, “ she said, “for both her life and her vocation, yes, joy for both.”

The staff and residents of the Jeanne Jugan Center held a party for Sr. Paul following the Mass.

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July 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph