Pilgrim People — At St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly in Totowa, pilgrims who will be attending the canonization of Blessed Jeanne Jugan are pictured with a banner of the future saint (from left): MaryAnn Madama, Little Sister Bernadette McCarthy, Jessie Hladik, Dorothy Kelly and Ellie Marmo. Photo by Cecile SanAgustin

Pilgrim People — At St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly in Totowa, pilgrims who will be attending the canonization of Blessed Jeanne Jugan are pictured with a banner of the future saint (from left): MaryAnn Madama, Little Sister Bernadette McCarthy, Jessie Hladik, Dorothy Kelly and Ellie Marmo. 
Photo by Cecile SanAgustin

TOTOWA — With prayers proclaimed and their passports in hand, four residents of St. Joseph Home for the Elderly here and a Little Sister of the Poor serving here are preparing to embark on the journey of a lifetime — the canonization of Blessed Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, she will be canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square in Rome before more than 4,000 sisters, residents, friends, supporters and benefactors of the Little Sisters. Jeanne Jugan’s mission was to provide care for the elderly and the dying of the world. Her legacy is carried on today by the Little Sisters of the Poor around the world.

The four residents, Jessie Hladik, 80; Dorothy Kelly, 80; MaryAnn Madama, 84; and Ellie Marmo, 84; and Little Sister Bernadette McCarthy, representing the Totowa “contingent,” are filled with excitement and joy on the occasion. They’ll be traveling to Rome to participate in various celebrations taking place from Oct. 10 to 14.

“I feel privileged and honored to travel on this pilgrimage,” said Madama, “I’ve always been impressed by Jeanne Jugan’s way of begging for the poor. I’m always touched by this story about her when she went begging one day and a man struck her face. Her response was this, ‘That’s what you have for me, now what do you have for the poor?’ ”

Fellow traveler Marmo said, “I’ve been living here for 17 years. My mother lived out her life here and I got to know more and more about the Little Sisters and Jeanne Jugan. This to me is a once in a lifetime trip to go on.”

For Kelly, the pilgrimage will be a family affair. She’s taking her own “little sister” Jane Hanning on the trip. “I’ve been living here for 10 years and when the opportunity arose, I knew I had to go on this pilgrimage and thank Jeanne Jugan for the blessings she’s given to me in my life. She answered one of my most ardent prayers on Aug. 31. It was a personal thing but to me it was a second miracle,” she said.

With blessings like that, Hladik, who’s the newest resident of the four, will also be carrying her intentions on the journey. Hladik said, “I’ll be praying for our country, our Church, my family and just ultimately for peace to be among our world. I feel so lucky to be living here at a time when she’s becoming a saint.”

Representing the 14 Little Sisters serving the Totowa home, Sister McCarthy is grateful for the opportunity to represent her congregation. Deciding who would participate in the pilgrimage, names of Little Sisters at Totowa interested in attending were placed before a statue of Blessed Jeanne Jugan and through prayers, Sister McCarthy was chosen to go. “It’s a great joy and thanksgiving to God to see after all these years that’s she’s going to be declared a saint,” she said.

Presently there are 2,710 Little Sisters serving in six continents. With homes in countries all around the world, the Totowa pilgrims expect to meet residents and religious from every part of the globe. Kelly said, “We’re different but we’re family.”

They already met a group of residents living in home operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx, N.Y., at a pilgrim party and said they felt an instant camaraderie.

Preceding the canonization, the Little Sisters of the Poor delegation will participate in guided tours of Rome and visit the Little Sisters’ home for the elderly there. There will be vigils occurring in Rome along with Little Sisters’ homes worldwide the evening of Saturday, Oct. 10. Then on Sunday morning, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the Mass at which the canonization of Jeanne Jugan and four others will take place in St. Peter’s Square. On Monday, there will be an audience with Pope Benedict XVI and then in the afternoon, there will be a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Tuesday will include a Mass in St. John Lateran with tours in the afternoon.

The Little Sisters, who operate 30 homes for the elderly in the United States, will be taking at least one resident from each home to Rome for the festivities. The Totowa residents laughed about how they were given the opportunity to witness the canonization. “We were told if we didn’t have a walker, use a wheel chair or required a cane, we were eligible go,” said the residents.

Following the model of their founder, the Little Sisters have created a loving environment for the residents to live out their golden years with dignity at St. Joseph Home for the Elderly. “With Blessed Jeanne Jugan’s special love for the elderly, we hope she becomes the patron saint for the elderly,” said Sister McCarthy.

The residents know first hand that love and are grateful to be living at St. Joseph’s.

Madama said, “There’s something to do here every minute.”

Hladik added, “You just feel like you’re home here.”