ST. LOUIS (CNS) — The Little Sisters of the Poor are withdrawing from their ministry of caring for the elderly poor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis after 147 years of service.

The sisters cited a decrease in sufficient vocations to effectively staff the residence in north St. Louis, in the spirit of the community’s foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan.

“We are eternally grateful for the support and love we received during our many years in St. Louis,” said Mother Gonzague Castro, local superior. “We love the city nearly as much as we love the people we work with and care for.”

The sisters are seeking new sponsorship to manage the property, which is home to 88 residents and has 125 employees. Efforts to assure the community’s mission through the transition are being managed by Kevin Short, managing partner and CEO of Clayton Capital Partners, a St. Louis-based investment banking firm that specializes in merger and acquisition advisement.

Families of residents were notified by letter Aug. 22 of the sisters’ withdrawal of sponsorship and staffing. Eight sisters at the north St. Louis residence will move to other community-sponsored residences in the United States. Their departure is contingent on the best possible outcome they can find for the home, and its residents and staff.

Letters were sent to priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and religious communities, notifying them of the news.

“This sacrifice will be keenly felt by countless people in our community, beginning with the residents, their families, and devoted lay collaborators,” St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson wrote in a letter to priests. “The Little Sisters of the Poor here in St. Louis have, for nearly 150 years, lived their order’s mission, offering 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.”

Seven Little Sisters of the Poor arrived in St. Louis from France in 1869 at the invitation of Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick. With a mission of caring for the elderly poor of the city, in the spirit of foundress St. Jeanne Jugan, they welcomed their first resident at a temporary quarters in downtown St. Louis.

In 1870, property was purchased in what is now the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. An existing home was arranged to allow for a greater number of elderly residents in need. The new building soon filled to capacity. Plans were made in 1873 to add a new wing and chapel. By 1900, a second wing was added, and the home served 276 residents.

In 1936, the sisters acquired a truck, to be used for “begging” for the needs of the residents, a tradition initiated by St. Jeanne Jugan. The St. Louis sisters continue that tradition today, asking for food, commodities and monetary assistance to cover roughly $2.4 million annually that is not covered by state and federal funding.

A new home on the same grounds opened in 1971, and a second residence in south St. Louis merged with the north city location. The residence was remodeled in 1993 to modernize the main dining room, provide a dining area for the Senior Day Center and complete a “mini-mall” area with a country store, gift shop, library and ice cream parlor. At the sisters’ 125th anniversary in 1994, 15 new apartments were dedicated, allowing them to expand their work to elderly who were well but had limited financial means.

The current residence offers senior apartments, independent living and intermediate nursing care. A Senior Day Center program exists for residents of the neighborhood who still live in their own homes and has about 20 participants.

There are 2,200 Little Sisters of the Poor who serve the elderly poor in 181 homes in over 30 countries around the world, including South America, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Asia. The sisters operate 27 homes in the United States. In Missouri, there is one other residence in Kansas City.


Brinker is a staff writer at the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.