The Little Sisters of the Poor have been caring for the elderly poor of Cincinnati for over 150 years. An international congregation, the Little Sisters’ mission is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family, and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.
The congregation was founded in France in 1839, when the humble Jeanne Jugan opened her heart and her home to an elderly, blind, and paralyzed woman in need. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she devoted her life to the care of the elderly poor, establishing a new religious community in the process — the Little Sisters of the Poor. From Jeanne Jugan’s humble heart flowed a great wave of charity that eventually spread all over the world. This wave reached America on Sept. 13, 1868, when seven Little Sisters arrived in Brooklyn, New York, after a long ocean voyage to establish the community’s first home in America. Within four years, the Little Sisters of the Poor had established 13 homes for the elderly in the United States. From Boston to St. Louis to New Orleans, they cared for needy older women and men regardless of race, religion or nationality. Today, the Little Sisters minister to the elderly in 27 homes across the country.
The Little Sisters of the Poor opened the second home in the United States on Oct. 15, 1868, here in Cincinnati through the help of Sarah Worthington Peter and Father Ernest Leliévre. Together they welcomed the Little Sisters at their new local home, a small storefront property at the corner of Fifth and Lock streets in downtown Cincinnati. With both Sarah Peter and Father Lelièvre advocating for this new group of religious in Cincinnati, the Sisters extended hospitality to more than 50 residents within the first few months. Throughout this time, the Sisters were able to win the confidence of the city and collected enough funds to purchase and renovate a more suitable house for the residents.
The first official home (St. Joseph’s Home) was opened on Florence Avenue near the entrance to Eden Park. The Sisters began to build relationships with the community, and visitors soon arrived with the necessary supplies. Their mission resonated with Cincinnati, and soon the Sisters were in need of additional space to provide their care to more residents in the Queen City. A new group of Sisters temporarily used the Gest Mansion on Dayton Street on what is known as Millionaires’ Row. Soon a more permanent second house ((St. Peter’s Home) was built, through the generous aid of friends, and opened on Riddle Road in Clifton Heights in 1886.
Between the two homes, the Little Sisters were able to offer care to over 400 elderly Cincinnatians at a time. The Sisters would venture downtown to go “begging” for goods, food, and supplies for the elderly in their care. In the morning, two Little Sisters headed to the market with baskets in hand to receive any spare food the vendors were willing to offer. They would quietly walk the various lines of vendors, seldom verbalizing a request. Vendors would politely decline, saying “Call again, good Sister,” or motion them over to place items in their basket. In the afternoon. when the markets were closed, the Sisters would call on local businesses for money, clothes, and other supplies.
To this day, the work of the Little Sisters remains the same, but with the modernization of the world and technology, the Sisters now collect more checks from vendors. The process of getting the goods is a little different, with the option of requesting items and scheduling times for pickups. The Sisters have built relationships with many local vendors as a continuance of their tradition of begging, and are always seeking new relationships to receive the goods they need to provide for their residents. One timeless habit of the Little Sisters is their reliance of St. Joseph. He is the foundation on which the Sisters depend with complete trust.
Today the Little Sisters of the Poor can be found at their home with their residents on Riddle Road in Clifton Heights. St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home for the Aged was opened in 1975, when both the homes on Riddle Road and Florence Avenue fell into disrepair. The Sisters currently care for nearly 100 residents at St. Paul’s Home and continue to rely on the community to support their mission of lovingly caringly for the elderly poor.