Sister Marie Gabriel tells her vocation story
THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR...AND ME!
Jeanne Jugan’s picture was lying crumpled under old John Walsh’s pillow when first I saw it. Jeanne Jugan, the caption informed me, was Sister Mary of the Cross, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
John Walsh was a patient in the Royal Perth Hospital from the Little Sisters Home at Glendalough, W.A. and I was a keen first year on night duty. Finding this picture as I arranged my patient’s bed was my first introduction to the Little Sisters. This simple event in Ward 62 on an oppressive December night in 1951 was one of the great moments in my young life.
The face that Looked back at me from that dilapidated picture did nothing to stir my interest. Finding that picture as I arranged my patient's bed, was my introduction to the Little Sisters.
My senior nurse, a good looking girl with a lovable disposition was considering religious life. I had a lovable disposition too, and I was hopeful about the holy married state. But God's ways are very wonderful. Today she is a contented mother of four and I , - well, instead of a vague :ten", I am, the spiritual mother of a world full of people.
The I learned to love this dear old man. I spent my spare minutes with him when he was sleepless. My young hand was held in his and I warmed to the pressure of his which told me that he appreciated my presence. His left hand held unceasingly and with purpose, his rosary, I talked in the low tones of night staff and he wrote me back replies. Due to the extensive surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his cheek, he was unable to speak.
Where did he come from? Who were his friends? Those whom he loved? I asked.
“The Little Sisters,” he wrote back.
The Little Sisters. What a strange, indefinable sensation charged through me right then. I’d often heard my mother and my parish priest speak of the Little Sisters, but I’d never known them nor even made myself wonder who they were. What I did know was that they cared exclusively for old people, men and women, who made their home with the Little Sisters permanently and were cared for by the Sisters until their last breath.
John Walsh made me interested, as his written words told me about his champions – the Little Sisters. How he loved them. When I cam on at night he had long notes ready for me. He told me that Jeanne Jugan had been a heroic French woman, poor and hardworking, living in the little town of St Servan in Brittany. Long ago, in 1839, she had taken into her own attic dwelling, an old blind woman, one destined to be the first member of the “Little Family” of Jeanne, which would develop into the mighty family that it was at that moment in 1951.
My night duty was bearable that first year, and it did me a lot of good to hear John Walsh call me an angel, a bright comforting angel. Me – foot-weary, back-aching, happy and cross all at once, an angel?
John died some months later. He was to remain a very special someone in my life. What was he doing for me, now that he was face to facr with the all-knowing, loving merciful God? Why was I now so frequently thinking of the Little Sisters? Why did I refuse to visit and help them as some of the nurses did on their days off? I didn’t want to know them, I told myself today, I did want to know them I convinced myself tomorrow. So, for two years I kept away. But they remained a mind-distracting element all the same, and I didn’t like it. Many small significant happenings should have woken me up, but it would take nothing less than a push from the Holy Spirit. The Lord was quietly doing his work though and on the feast of St Therese of Lisieux, I felt it was time to do something about it. I spoke to my Parish Priest and he arranged to take me to Glendalough to meet the Little Sisters.
My next day off I went to see the Little Sisters. I dressed in my very best clothes and modified my makeup. When I called goodbye to Mum, she came to me, looked me over, hugged me and said, “I hope they don’t like you”. “Me too” I replied.
Thirty minutes later I met the Little Sisters for the first time. I loved them at sight. Why did I love the Little Sisters? Why did I go home that day to Mum and tell her “This is it”- just like that?
Four months after I graduated, I joined the community at Glendalough. I spent 6 months, very happy months, at Glendalough, then to Sydney for my novitiate.
The two years of novitiate were happy years, with moments of elation and deflation but balanced by a very healthy moderateness most of the time. We did a lot of praying and studying under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I made a lot of mistakes, enjoyed a few escapades, had my ups and downs but overall I was very happy and contented and had the comfortable conviction that I fitted in.
In December 1956 I made my first profession of vows. From then, until 1960 I was very happy serving the elderly people, living in community and spending a lot of time in prayer.
As does every Little Sister, I then spent 12 months preparation for perpetual vows at the mother house- La Tour St Joseph- in Brittany, France. This year is an experience unique in the life of ever Little Sister. It is a year of prayer, study, reflection and decisions. It is a great happiness for those who have come from every corner of the Globe to prepare for that final commitment to God, the church and their religious family. Here at the heart, the very cradle of the congregation, each one at lasts visits and sees personally those places made so dear by Jeanne Jugan to each Little SIster of the Poor. It is a return to the source of this religious institute,
Jeanne Jugan! How often during my months at La Tour did I think of her? It seemed so incredible that I was now one of her children. With deep gratitude I recalled those nights on ward 62 back at Royal Perth Hospital and the picture under old John Walsh’s pillow.
Now, at the age of 86 I am even more grateful to old John Walsh for he led me to a very happy and fulfilled life, caring for the elderly in Australia, New Zealand, Noumea and Malaysia and coming to an ever deeper union with Jesus Christ my spouse.
"How can I repay the Lord, for his goodness to me."
Sister Marie Gabriel lsp