The love for the elderly by the Little Sisters of the Poor is captivating for both Catholic and non-Catholic visitors to witness, as they continue the charismatic inspiration of their founder St Jeanne Jugan who encouraged them to ‘make the elderly happy’. Today they need help to build more independent living units to keep caring for its residents as a family, writes Christine Diamond.
The first thing you notice when you visit St Joseph’s Home in Northcote is that it does not feel like a nursing home. It is not just the tasteful decor of the refurbishments, the newly painted walls or beautiful gardens that set the scene. There is more to it than that. Is it the staff members who smile and nod as they pass you by? Is it the volunteer at reception who greets you with a cheery ‘hello’ as you enter?
Perhaps it is the residents who are sitting chatting with each other or a sister—who seem to be actually, well, happy.
St Joseph’s is run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been caring for the disadvantaged elderly of Melbourne since 1884. The order foundress, St Jeanne Jugan, urged the sisters to ‘make the elderly happy; that is what counts’. Unfortunately, though, many of us do not regard the move into aged care as a potentially ‘happy’ time in our lives or in the lives of our loved ones. The transition can be fraught with emotion, overwhelming and sad. It is a time when guilt, confusion, worry about the future and reluctance to give up the past come to the fore.
For most of us, the reversal of roles, where the child becomes the caregiver in the relationship with their parents, can be a heavy and confusing burden. When our parents or family members are no longer able to take care of themselves, the least we want is someone to love them enough to look after them as we would if we were able.
At St Joseph’s, however, it feels different. St Joseph’s is a happy, welcoming place where age is celebrated and the sisters have a calm and reassuring presence about them.
Its difference is hard to put your finger on; hard to explain. It is something intangible and more of a feeling than an object. I believe that difference is love.
The Little Sisters’ love of the elderly is almost palpable when you see them interact with each other. Their love for God gives them a strength of purpose and a humility that is captivating for both Catholic and non-Catholic visitors to witness. Their joie de vivre, which possibly stems from their formation in France, informs their mission. They do not just look after the physical and medical needs of their elderly residents, they dedicate their lives to caring for the life, dignity and uniqueness of the most needy and vulnerable elderly in our society.
When Kath Kelleher’s husband passed away, and she decided she would move into St Joseph’s, one of her biggest concerns was whether she would ‘fit in’. Nearly four years on, she says: ‘I have made some very good friends. The sisters here are wonderful to us … now I know I am home.’
The Little Sisters of the Poor embody the Holy Spirit. Each and every day, they embrace the first Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. The sisters continue the charismatic inspiration of St Jeanne Jugan in today’s world, using all modern means to improve care for the elderly and to promote their role in society. They are supported by more than 60 well trained, professional and hardworking staff and just as many dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.
St Jeanne Jugan asked her order to ‘Love God very much so that you can look after the aged well, for it is Jesus whom you care for in them’. The Little Sisters welcome the disadvantaged elderly of every race and religion into their home and live with their residents as a family. They are dedicated to a holistic approach to aged care. They ask for nothing in return.
In October 2014 Pope Francis advised us that ‘we need a society which measures its success on how the weak are cared for’. As the number of Australians aged 65 and over is projected to more than double by 2055, the number of disadvantaged elderly who need quality aged care will skyrocket. Recent changes to government funding encourage the elderly to stay in their homes for longer. But what do you do if you don’t have a home to stay in? What do you do if you don’t have any family to help look after you? That’s where the Little Sisters of the Poor step in to fill the gap. The Little Sisters provide shelter, comfort and care for those who have none. And they love them.
The community at St Joseph’s urgently needs to add 22 independent living units in order to keep caring for its residents as a family. The Little Sisters of the Poor cannot do this without your help. They rely totally on the generosity of their benefactors and believe unequivocally in the Providence of God.
They need your support and your prayers now more than ever.
Brother Ken Gunn, a resident of St Joseph’s for the past five years, says: ‘The people living in the new units will be living alone but they will have no reason to feel lonely because they can share the company of the other residents in the large range of activities available here each day.’
For more information about the Little Sisters of the Poor ‘It feels like home’ campaign, visit the website at www.littlesistersofthepoor.org.au or visit St Joseph’s at 112B St Georges Road, Northcote.
Photo courtesy of Fiona Basile, Media & Communications Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
Christine Diamond is a fundraising professional who has been working with Julie Owens from the Archdiocese’s Development Office and the Little Sisters of the Poor on their campaign.