By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
For 150 years now the Little Sisters of the Poor have been offering the city’s elderly the welcome of Christ — with prayer, a smile and a steady hand to help them start the day.
The Little Sisters of the Poor serve 50 elderly low-income men and women at the St. Joseph Home for the Aged and another 24 residents who reside in apartments on the same campus located at 15 Audubon Plaza Drive.
“The elderly have great value. We want to feel they’re home and having caring people around them to listen and serve them the best they can,” said Mother Paul Magyar, superior of the community during an interview Oct. 4.
Mother Magyar said the sisters sustain the home first through prayer and “God’s providential care.” “St. Joseph is our protector. He never lets us down. We pray to him and we thank him,” she said.
Medicaid helps to cover part of the cost of operating the home and the sisters also rely on donations from the community for much of what they do.
Though the sisters no longer carry a “begging basket” — as was their tradition — they still go into the community asking for donations in the tradition of their foundress St. Jeanne Jugan.
The Little Sisters of the Poor began in 1839 in France when St. Jeanne Jugan took home and cared for a paralyzed and blind elderly woman. To sustain the elderly poor she served, St. Jeanne Jugan walked the streets of France carrying her begging basket and asking for alms.
Her small ministry flourished and attracted others. Today the sisters serve in more than 30 countries worldwide and in more than two dozen cities in the United States.
There are 11 Little Sisters of the Poor serving in Louisville and they are assisted in their work by a full staff of healthcare professionals.
All the sisters contribute to the well being of the residents though some are now too elderly to provide direct care.
Seven sisters are active in the care of residents and operation of the home said, Mother Magyar. They contribute a range of services, from coordinating the staff, to helping in the dining room and walking residents to the chapel. Even those who cannot participate directly, contribute by praying, visiting and offering simple gestures, such as a “beautiful smile,” said Mother Magyar.
Some of the residents in the home are frail and need more care than others, said Mother Magyar. These residents receive help from nurses and nursing assistants. Despite their limitations Mother Magyar describes the residents as “beautiful people.”
The average age of a resident at the home is 94, said Mother Magyar. The eldest resident is 106-years-old.
“In our culture now it’s important we show respect for the elderly. Their life is meaningful and they have dignity,” she said. The elderly are on the “other end of the life spectrum on earth. We want to just be there and assist them on this journey. All should have the love and care they need.”
Residents have the opportunity to attend Mass every day. Physical therapy is available, as are a variety of activities, including art, music, shopping trips and discussion groups.
St. Joseph Home for the Aged has been at the Audubon Plaza location for close to three decades.
When the sisters came to Louisville they established a home for the elderly at 622 S. 10th St., where they remained for 108 years. That home was closed and the sisters left Louisville for some time. In 1991 they returned and opened St. Joseph Home.
Ninety-four-year-old Martha Owens — a resident of the St. Joseph Home — remembers the home on 10th street. Her grandmother was a resident there in the 1940s.
Owens was a student at Presentation Academy in 1938 and she volunteered in the dining room, helping to serve the elderly.
She is a mother of six and became a widow early in her life. She described herself as “independent.” It took a while to learn to depend on others for care, she said.
But she likes living at the home, she noted.
“It’s a wonderful place. Anybody that comes to see me says, ‘I can’t believe this place. It’s so clean.’ ” said Owens. “It’s easy living here. The people are friendly, the food is delicious and I can go to Mass every day.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor are also celebrating 150 years of service in America. The sisters came to the United States in September of 1868 and established their first home in Brooklyn. A year later they came to Louisville in September of 1869.
To learn more about the Little Sisters of the Poor or how to volunteer or contribute to St. Joseph Home for the Aged, visit http://www.littlesistersofthepoorlouisville.org/ or contact the home at 636-2600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.