Little Sisters of the Poor

Location: 520 E. Vermont St., Indianapolis (Marion County, Indiana) 46202

Installed 2017 Indiana Historical Bureau and the St. Augustine Guild

49.2017.1

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Side One

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order devoted to caring for the elderly poor, arrived in the U.S. in 1868 and quickly expanded nationally. At a time when the elderly were often ignored and unseen, the Little Sisters of the Poor provided a home. They came to Indianapolis in 1873 and established a home for the aged poor on this site soon after.

Side Two

The home was open to anyone over age sixty with no means of support, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. The Little Sisters solicited alms daily to provide shelter, comfort, and basic nursing care for residents. Their dedication garnered widespread appreciation. In 1967, the home moved to 2345 West 86th Street as St. Augustine Home for the Aged.

Annotated Text

Side One

[1] arrived in the U.S. in 1868 and quickly expanded nationally.[2] At a time when the elderly were often ignored and unseen, the Little Sisters of the Poor provided a home.[3] They came to Indianapolis in 1873 and established a home for the aged poor on this site soon after.[4]

Side Two

The home was open to anyone over sixty years old with no means of support, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.[5] The Little Sisters solicited alms daily to provide shelter, comfort, and basic nursing care for residents.[6] Their dedication garnered widespread appreciation.[7] In 1967, the home moved to 2345 West 86th Street as St. Augustine Home for the Aged.[8]

All newspapers accessed via Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] "Another Charitable Institution: The Home for the Little Sisters of the Poor," Brooklyn [New York] Daily Eagle, November 2, 1868, 2; M. Leon Aubineau, Historical Account of the Little Sisters of the Poor (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1877), submitted by applicant; A. Leroy, History of the Little Sisters of the Poor (London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1906), submitted by applicant, accessed Archive.org; “History,” Little Sisters of the Poor, accessed littlesistersofthepoor.org.

The Little Sisters of the Poor began their charitable work in the late 1830s and 1840s in Saint-Servan, a small town in northwestern France, in the region of Brittany. According to A. Leroy's History of the Little Sisters of the Poor and historical accounts from the Little Sisters, the Catholic religious order traces its origins to the winter of 1839, when Jeanne Jugan welcomed Anne Chauvin, a blind, infirm woman into her home. Anne had lost her only means of support and was unable to care for herself. Sympathizing with the elderly woman, Jugan gave up her own bed so Chauvin would have a place to sleep. This act of kindness served as the beginning of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Jugan welcomed other elderly women into her home and cared for them in the months that followed. 

Leroy notes that Saint-Servan had no almshouse or shelter for the aged poor at this time, but Jugan's home filled this void and became "a hospice for old people," with Jugan herself begging on behalf of those in her care. Soon, other religious women joined her in her work. The Little Sisters report that this group of pious women, calling themselves "Servants of the Poor," moved into a larger house in 1841 to care for the town's aged poor. They adopted the name the "Little Sisters of the Poor" by 1849.

For a detailed history of the Little Sisters of the Poor, see A. Leroy’s History of the Little Sisters of the Poor. For more on Jeanne Jugan, who was canonized a saint in 2009, see http://littlesistersofthepoor.org/saint-jeanne-jugan/canonization/.

[2] "Another Charitable Institution: The Home for the Little Sisters of the Poor," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 2, 1868, 2; “Review of the Week: Little Sisters of the Poor,” [New Orleans] Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, December 20, 1868, 5; M. Leon Aubineau, Historical Account of the Little Sisters of the Poor (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1877), submitted by applicant; Little Sisters of the Poor, “American Foundations,” 2016, accessed http://littlesistersofthepoor.org/american-foundations/.

According to M. Leon Aubineau’s Historical Account of the Little Sisters of the Poor, between 1840 and 1868, the Little Sisters opened over 100 homes in Europe to care for the elderly poor. While the majority of these houses were established in France, they could also be found in England, Belgium, Switzerland, Scotland, Spain, and Ireland during this period. In 1868, the Little Sisters arrived in the United States in the hopes of furthering their mission, and established a home in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle commended their work in a November 2, 1868 article, calling the Little Sisters of the Poor "a welcome addition to the many charitable institutions of our city” and noting:

…everywhere their quiet unostentatious charity, their humble, but earnest work, and the helplessness of the class to whose support their lives are devoted, have won for them the sympathy and love, not only of the members of their own faith, but of all others in which Christian charity and love are component parts.

That same year, the Little Sisters opened homes for the aged poor in Cincinnati and New Orleans, and in 1869, they expanded to Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Louisville. According to Aubineau, between 1840 and 1882, the Little Sisters established 212 homes, twenty-eight of which were located in the United States. For a complete listing of homes opened during this period, see Aubineau’s Historical Account, 60-62.

[3] "Another Charitable Institution: The Home for the Little Sisters of the Poor," Brooklyn [New York] Daily Eagle, November 2, 1868, 2; Rev. Francis H. Gavisk, "Catholic Charities in Indiana," State of Indiana: Annual Comparative Statement of the State Charitable and Correctional Institutions, December 10, 1890, accessed Google Books; L.A. Toomy, “Some Noble Work of Catholic Women,” Catholic World (May 1893): 234-238; “Dedicate Additions at Home for Aged,” Indiana Catholic and Record, April 16, 1915, n.p., submitted by applicant; “Little Sisters of the Poor Aid Aged in Crumbling Old Building," Indianapolis Star, June 4, 1961, 5.

In 1893, Catholic World reported: “It was not an almshouse which the Little Sisters had provided for these poor old people; it was a home, with far more sociability about it than ever their protégés had known, probably in their lives before they had entered this one.” Rt. Rev. Joseph Chartrand D. D., Coadjutor Bishop of the Indianapolis diocese, and Rev. Francis H. Gavinsk also praised the work of the Little Sisters and the charity they provided to the friendless.

In his report to the State Board of Charities in 1890, Rev. Gavinsk wrote:

This work of caring for the aged poor is, of all works of charity, the most ungracious, and requires the sublimest devotion . . . There is no human satisfaction in caring for an aged person, especially not one bound by ties of kindred...with the aged it is degeneracy and decay, a second childhood without the innocent hopefulness that is the charm of childhood. The sisters care for their charges like little mothers. They provide for them in every material necessity, humor their childish fancies, comfort their declining days with cheerful attention, and close their aged eyelids in death amid the accents of prayer. I know of no more beautiful picture of religious simplicity and unconscious charity than that to be seen in one of these homes for the aged.

In a similar fashion, Bishop Chartrand gave a speech in 1915 at the dedication ceremony for additions to the Home for the Aged in which he too noted that it was the Little Sisters who cared for the aged and infirm when many others gave up on them:

The world gives them the aged for the world does not want the old . . . The world reaches out for the young, and discards the old. So true is this that if we had five homes of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis, each as large as this one, we could fill all five in a short time.

It is important to note that despite their much needed aid, the Little Sisters were not the only philanthropic group to dedicate their services for the elderly in Indiana in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For a listing of other such groups, see Morton Leeds, ed., Indiana Directory of Philanthropic Homes for the Aged (Indiana State Commission on the Aging and Aged, September 1961), accessed Indiana State Library. See also Paul Mullins, "Remembering Captivity at the Alpha Home for Aged “Colored Women," Invisible Indianapolis, September 20, 2016, accessed https://invisibleindianapolis.wordpress.com.

[4] “Little Sisters of the Poor,” Indianapolis News, February 4, 1873, 1; “Home for the Aged,” R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis City Directory for 1874 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co, 1874), 509, accessed Indiana State Library microfilm; “Little Sisters of the Poor,” R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis City Directory for 1877 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co, 1877), 257, accessed Indiana State Library microfilm; “New and Beautiful Charity,” Indianapolis Journal, June 2, 1873, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Home for the Aged: The Building to be Put Up by the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Indianapolis News, April 16, 1878, 4; “Additional City News,” Indianapolis News, June 15, 1878, 1; 1887 Sanborn Maps of Indianapolis, Map #50, accessed Indiana Memory; [Untitled], Indianapolis News, October 31, 1887, n.p., submitted by applicant; “For the Destitute Only: Little Sisters Whose Vows Impose Perpetual Poverty,” Indianapolis News, July 16, 1892, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; 1898 Sanborn Maps of Indianapolis, Map #177, accessed Indiana Memory; “Two Dormitories Added: Little Sisters of the Poor Improving Home for the Aged,” Indianapolis News, August 12, 1914, 2.

In February 1873, the Indianapolis News reported on the Little Sisters' arrival in the city and noted that for the time being they were opening a small home for the aged poor on Kentucky Avenue, between Maryland and Georgia streets. Within just a few months, the Little Sisters purchased a lot on East Street, between Vermont and Michigan, and relocated to this site to continue their work of caring for the aged and infirm of the city. The Indianapolis Journal reported on the move in a June 2, 1873 article and praised the work of the Little Sisters, stating: “the charitable institutions of the city have received a powerful ally in this – one capable of doing a vast amount of good among the aged and infirm.”

By the spring of 1878, the Little Sisters had already outgrown their home on East St. and were in need of a larger building to accommodate their residents and meet increasing demand. The Little Sisters received a permit by April of that year for the erection of a new building on the lot with frontage on Vermont St. Plans for the three-story brick home included a center building and two wings. According to the Indianapolis News, the home on East St. occupied “the rear end of the lot where the new building is to stand.” The article noted that “the new building will accommodate 120 persons, and will enable the sisters to extend their charity to many who deserve it and can not now receive it for want of room.”

The cornerstone for the Little Sisters’ new home was laid in June 1878. Bishop Chatard and other religious leaders dedicated the building in November 1879 in an elaborate ceremony, details of which are included in the Indianapolis News on November 24, 1879. According to the News, at the time, nine Sisters, all of foreign birth, operated the home, under the leadership of Sister Esther.

A note on the name of the institution: Early newspaper articles refer to the home interchangeably as the “home of the Little Sisters,” the “home for the aged,” and the “home for the aged poor.” City directories and Sanborn maps from the time also differ in how they list the institution. The 1874 and 1876 city directories refer to it as the Little Sister’s “Home for the Aged.” The 1877, 1879, and 1880 city directories refer to it as the “Home for Aged Poor.” The 1887 Sanborn map marks the building as the “Home of the Aged Poor by the Little Sisters of the Poor.” IHB staff did not locate any primary sources referring to the building as “St. Augustine Home for the Aged” until the 1960s. 

Note: The Little Sisters were active throughout the State of Indiana during this period, including in cities such as South Bend, Gary, and Evansville. They arrived in Evansville in 1882 and opened a new home to care for the aged poor of that city in 1887.

[5] "Little Sisters of the Poor," Indianapolis News, February 4, 1873, 1; "Home for the Aged Poor," Chapter XX, in Year Book of Charities, 1890-1891, Addresses Given on Phases of Charity at the Fifty-Fifth Anniversary of the Indianapolis Benevolent Society (Indianapolis: Baker-Rudolph Litho. and Eng. Co., 1892), 55; "Institutions Visited," Indianapolis Journal, March 30, 1902, 10, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles, submitted by applicant; A. Leroy, History of the Little Sisters of the Poor (London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1906), submitted by applicant, accessed Archive.org.

The Little Sisters of the Poor provided asylum and care free of charge for men and women over sixty years old who lacked the means and family to care for them. Although they are a Catholic religious order, their homes for the aged were and continue to be open to all regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity. In recent years, the age requirement has increased from sixty to sixty-five.

[6] "City News," Indianapolis News, October 30, 1885, 4; "A Worthy Object," Terre Haute Express, October 1, 1886; "The Catholic Charities of New York," Catholic World, A Monthly Magazine of General Literature and Science, September 1886, 809; "Home for the Aged Poor," Chapter XX, in Year Book of Charities, 1890-1891, Addresses Given on Phases of Charity at the Fifty-Fifth Anniversary of the Indianapolis Benevolent Society (Indianapolis: Baker-Rudolph Litho. and Eng. Co., 1892), 55; "War Chest Survey: VI-Little Sisters of the Poor," Indianapolis Star, September 21, 1918, 10, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers; "Aged Home Auxiliary to be Formed," Indianapolis Star, January 8, 1961, 4;  "Funds Set up to Finance St. Augustine's Home," Indianapolis Star, April 17, 1964, 14.

The Little Sisters of the Poor do not charge residents any admission fees, nor do they receive funds from the government to operate their homes for the aged poor. They depend entirely on charity to provide for the residents in their care. Newspaper articles and reports in the Year Book of Charities in the late 1800s and early 1900s reported that the Little Sisters went door-to-door personally soliciting assistance in the form of food, clothing, or monetary donations.

In addition to providing food, clothing, and shelter, the Little Sisters also nurse and tend to the sick in their homes. With the establishment of the new home for the aged poor in Indianapolis in the late 1960s (see footnote 8), an auxiliary formed to help raise funds for therapeutic equipment that would provide additional assistance for the elderly.

[7] "Liberality," Indiana State Sentinel, May 15, 1878, 2; "Annual Charity Meeting," Indianapolis News, December 4, 1893, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; "Two Fine Hospitals," [Terre Haute] Semi-Weekly Express, December 3, 1897, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles, submitted by applicant; "The Little Sisters," South Bend News-Times, November 24, 1913, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; "Little Sisters of Poor Lauded by Bishop Ritter," Indianapolis Star, September 13, 1939, 14; Honorable John J. Barton, statement, "On the Occasion of the 92nd Anniversary of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged," submitted by applicant.

Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries Indiana newspapers praised the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor, lauding their efforts to care for the aged poor of the state. This praise extended beyond Indianapolis. In a December 1897 article in the Terre Haute Semi-Weekly Express, the paper noted that the Little Sisters were "pioneers in this creditable and humane work" of caring for the sick and injured of that city. Similarly, in November 1913, the South Bend News-Times reported "No one ever knew, no one will ever know, probably just how much good these quiet, unassuming sisters have done in South Bend . . . If people needed them, they went, quietly, assuredly, efficiently to the task."

In the 1960s, Indianapolis Mayor John J. Barton praised the contributions of the Little Sisters, noting that because they operated without fanfare their work had gone almost unnoticed by the city. Mayor Barton thanked and congratulated the Little Sisters and wished them many more years of continued service in Indianapolis.

[8] “Little Sisters Look for New Home Site,” The Criterion, May 5, 1961, 1, submitted by applicant; "Little Sisters of the Poor Aid Aged in Crumbling Old Building," Indianapolis Star, June 4, 1961, 5; "Little Sisters of Poor Get OK For Home," Indianapolis Star, August 23, 1962, 1, 9; “Home for Aged Drive Passes $1.3 Million,” The Criterion, June 19, 1964, submitted by applicant; "Elderly Residents Moved to New Quarters in 'Operation Big Brother,'" The Northern Suburbanite, November 22, 1967, 1; submitted by applicant.

By 1961, the building on Vermont St. that had served as a home and haven for many aged poor in Indianapolis was beginning to show its age. Articles in The Criterion and Indianapolis Star in May and June of that year reflected on the conditions of the home, noting that major repairs would be needed to fix the crumbling building and improve accommodations for residents. Because of the high costs associated with the repairs, and the desire for extra space to accommodate more elderly individuals and elderly couples, the Little Sisters decided to begin looking for a new home site in which to relocate.

In August 1962, the Metropolitan Plan Commission approved plans for a new $3,000,000 home to be called St. Augustine Home for the Aged on a thirty-four acre tract of land near Township Line Road and 86th St. By June 1964, The Criterion reported that gifts and pledges for a fund drive for the new structure had surpassed $1.3 million. Three years later, in November 1967, the Little Sisters and eighty-six residents moved from their building on Vermont St. into their new home at 2345 West 86th St.

For information on the move, which became an extensive public service project called “Operation Big Brother,” see "Elderly Residents Moved to New Quarters in 'Operation Big Brother,'" The Northern Suburbanite, November 22, 1967, 1 and "Big Hand for the Little Sisters," Indianapolis Star Magazine, February 18, 1968.

Keywords

women, religion