SAINT JOAN of the CROSS (1666-1736)
Religious sister and foundress
Today, the Church honors Saint Joan of the Cross, also known as Saint Jeanne Delanoue, who was a foundress and a woman known for her untiring charity to the poor.
Jeanne was born June 18, 1666, in the city of Saumur, located in the valley of the Loire River in Anjoú, France. She was the youngest of twelve children. Her parents owned a business near the sanctuary of Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers. Although only six years of age when her father died, she helped her mother run the store. Her qualities were remarkable – she was skillful, energetic and untiring in her efforts to assist in caring for the family.
The family business, through her efforts, was growing and prospering. It was precisely within this context of success that, at the age of twenty-seven, shortly after the death of her mother, that Jeanne was invited by an elderly woman, who was a faithful pilgrim to the shrine of Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers, to consecrate herself to the many poor people of her neighborhood.
Despite the responsibilities she had accrued, in response to this call which she believed to have come from God, Jeanne turned toward the poor. They assumed more of her time each day than did her clients, until finally caring for the poor became her full-time occupation. Within a short period of time, the poor no longer awaited her visits to them; instead, they came to her. In 1700, she warmly welcomed a child into her home, and, soon after, she took in the sick, the aged, and the destitute.
Within four years, in 1704, some young girls were interested in helping Jeanne and were even willing to wear a religious habit if she wished them to do so. It was thus that the Congregation of Sainte-Anne de la Providence was born. Under this name, the Rule of this new Order was approved in 1709, and Jeanne took the religious name of Joan of the Cross.
Sister Joan’s tenacity, supported by the dedicated women who worked with her, brought about the foundation of Saumur’s first home for the poor in 1715. Very quickly, her charity spread beyond the city limits of Saumur and her diocese. More than that, her small Order now grew to forty members who were under her direction and who had made the decision to follow her example of self-sacrifice, prayer and mortification.
Upon her death on August 17, 1736, Mother Joan, as she was now known, had established a dozen communities, as well as homes and schools, all for the care of the poor and destitute. They would exclaim in Saumur, “The saint is dead.” The Sisters of Jeanne Delanoue, as they simply call themselves today, number about 400 in France, Madagascar and Sumatra.
In 1947, Venerable Pope Pius XII beatified Joan of the Cross, and on October 31, 1982, she was canonized a saint by Pope St. John Paul II.
We commemorate her feastday on August 17.
(From vatican.va/news_services, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org and christdesert.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Holy Women ~ ministering to the underprivileged)
“Lord God, You teach us that the Commandments of Heaven are summarized in love of You and love of our neighbor. By following the example of Saint Joan of the Cross in practicing works of charity, may we be counted among the blessed in Your Kingdom.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”