The Little Sisters of the Poor and Sister St. Jeanne Jugan: Background information when reading The Ninth Hour

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The Ninth Hour

A Novel

by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott X
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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The Little Sisters of the Poor and Sister St. Jeanne Jugan

This article relates to The Ninth Hour

Print Review

The nuns in The Ninth Hour belong to an order that appears to be similar to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order with humble beginnings, founded by Sister St. Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. Jugan was born in Brittany, France in 1792, amid the hardships of the French Revolution, a time when Catholics were being persecuted. Her mother provided her with religious instruction in secret, and Jeanne joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes where she worked as a nurse.

Sister St. Jeanne Jugan In the winter of 1839, Jeanne had a fortuitous encounter with an ailing elderly woman named Anne Chauvin. Seeing the woman was badly in need of care, Jeanne brought her home to her own apartment, which she shared with two other women. From that day forward, Jeanne continued to take in the aged and infirm until their numbers required greater space, which she acquired in 1841 in the form of a spare building in a nearby convent. Jeanne's mission attracted numerous followers and by 1850, over 100 women were serving under what had become the Little Sisters of the Poor.

In 1843, however, there was a restructuring of the Little Sisters organization, and Jugan was forced out of her position as superior by Father Augustin Marie Le Pailleur. Jugan would die without receiving proper credit for the founding and advancement of this remarkable order. She passed away in 1879 in obscurity. The Little Sisters, unaware of her legacy, failed to acknowledge her as founder, as Le Pailleur had taken this title for himself. In 1890, the Church launched an investigation into the matter and Le Pailleur was reprimanded and removed from his position, Jugan restored to her proper place in history.

The Little Sisters of the Poor first came to America from France in 1868, and established thirteen homes in four years, including the one in Brooklyn that serves as a setting for The Ninth Hour. Shortly thereafter, homes were established in Cincinnati, New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Louisville, Boston, Cleveland, and finally, Washington D.C. There are currently 27 Little Sisters of the Poor locations operating in the United States catering to the needs of the elderly and impoverished. Jeanne Jugan was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and canonized as a saint in 2009.

Having met Jeanne Jugan in 1846, novelist Charles Dickens remarked, "There is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears."

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Ninth Hour. It originally ran in September 2017 and has been updated for the September 2018 paperback edition.

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