Born in a small village in France in 1792, Jeanne Jugan was one of eight children. At four years of age, her father, a fishman, was lost at sea. Despite the poverty and struggle Jeanne’s mother provided for her family. Because of the anti-Catholic sentiment in post revolution France her mother secretly taught her the faith, laying a foundation for Jeanne’s life of faith inspired service.
Jeanne worked as a shepherdess when she was very young. At 16 she took a job working in the kitchen for a viscountess. Her employer a devout Catholic brough Jeanne along when she visited the sick and the poor. This early service was reflected later in Jeanne’s life when after a number of different types of work she began her life’s work. In 1837, at age 43 Jeanne joined together with a 72 year old woman and a 17 year old orphan as a small Catholic community of prayer. Together they shared part of a small cottage and from this humble place they taught catechism and assisted the poor.
Two years later in the winter Jeanne Jugan encountered an elderly woman with no one to care for her. The woman was blind and partially paralyzed. Jeanne, carried her to the cottage and placed the woman in her own bed, taking a place in the attic for herself. Soon she took in two more women eventually renting more space as the number grew to a dozen. Within three years of bringing home the first woman, Jeanne acquired an unused convent that could house 40 people. She focussed her mission on assisting elderly woman who had been abandoned. From this service grew a religious order the Little Sisters of the Poor.