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Little Sisters of the Poor Meet Pandemic with Grace, Humility

In the outside world, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting our divisions.

Inside the Little Sisters of the Poor retirement residence in Pittsburgh, it’s revealing the power of grace and humility.

The mission of Little Sisters of the Poor (LSP), a Roman Catholic order founded in France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan, is to care for the elderly poor (of all denominations) in their last chapter of life. Today, 172 LSP homes in 31 countries serve nearly 12,000 aged poor.

One might think the people who live and work there would be in a panic, as this miserable virus ravages so many retirement homes.

Rather than fret over stringent limitations imposed due to the coronavirus, however, the sisters, staff and residents are displaying incredible cheerfulness and hope.

To protect LSP Pittsburgh’s 93 residents, the sisters sent home its 184 volunteers, who help with a massive daily workload. Full-time staff members’ temperatures are checked before entering the facilities. Everyone wears layers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Everyone works overtime.

The residence hasn’t experienced a single case of COVID-19 – a huge blessing.

Residents spend most of the day isolated in their modest apartments (leaving only to pick up box meals). Visitation and social gatherings have halted.

Residents greatly miss seeing their children and grandchildren, so an LSP activity staffer began running FaceTime, a video chat application, on her iPad.

FaceTime was an immediate hit. When donors learned of the need for iPads to run it, donated iPads arrived.

“We’re very blessed that way,” Sister Mary Vincent Mannion, mother superior of the residence, told me. “We survive on donations of food and supplies, but no sooner does a need arise than a generous soul steps up to help us meet it.”

Daily chapel visits are suspended, so the sisters began closed-circuit telecasts of Mass and other events within the residence. They make daily rounds with cookies, wine and cheese, and other goodies.

With the bingo hall temporarily closed, the sisters created hallway bingo. Residents sit in socially distanced chairs just outside their apartment doors.

The residents, too, are eager to do their part to help others.

Some sew masks and other PPE items in their rooms, donating them where they’re needed.

Others bake cookies, or create paintings and other crafts to display in the halls, bringing happiness to their neighbors.

But the residents’ strongest contribution is prayer.

Seventy of them formed a Pray Warriors club, which accepts prayer requests for those suffering. They’re praying daily for COVID-19 victims.

“God especially loves and listens to the elderly poor,” said Sister Mary Vincent. “Passages throughout the Bible speak to His love. And that is why their prayers are so powerful.”

In the middle of a pandemic, everyone at LSP Pittsburgh is focused on doing what she or he can to help others in need.

Meanwhile, across the country, pride, arrogance and divisiveness worsen. Some are heartlessly using the crisis to bludgeon political opponents.

If a pandemic, in which so many things are beyond our control, cannot bring us humility, I can think of only one thing that can.

We must become humble and gracious like the sisters, staff and residents at LSP Pittsburgh. Only then will we come together and accomplish the great feats that are needed to get our country back on track.

I pray that we learn from LSP Pittsburgh’s powerful example.

To donate provisions or funds to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Pittsburgh home, visit littlesistersofthepoorpittsburgh.org or call 412-307-1100.

Tom Purcell is the author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.