Teresa of Jesus Jornet

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Teresa Jornet e Ibars (January 9, 1843-August 26, 1897) was the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly better known as the Little Sisters of the Poor (not to be confused with another congregation of the same English name, the Little Sisters of the Poor, founded in France by St. Jeanne Jugan). She was born to a Catalan farm family, Francisco Jornet and his wife, Antonieta Ibars.

From a young age, Teresa demonstrated a strong concern for the poor, often bringing them to the home of an aunt, where they were sure to receive assistance. She later moved to the nearby city of Lleida, living with another aunt, as she pursued her education. She began a teaching career in Barcelona's suburbs, but felt drawn to the monastic life. She applied for admission to the Poor Clares near Burgos, but anti-clerical laws then in effect prevented her from entering religious life. Thus, Teresa devoted herself to her teaching, and became a Carmelite tertiary to develop her spiritual life. After Teresa's father died, she contracted a severe illness which kept her homebound for a prolonged period.

Her spiritual director, the Reverend Saturnino López y Novoa, encouraged Teresa to undertake the care of the many elderly people of the region who were living in solitude and poverty. This answered a strong sense of futility Teresa had been feeling in her life, and she accepted the challenge.

In 1872, she opened the first house to this end in the city of Barbastro. Among the small group of helpers who enabled this was her own sister, María. On January 27 of the following year, this small group took the habit and became a religious congregation, with Teresa taking the name of the great foundress of the Carmelite Order to which she had previously belonged, Teresa of Jesus. She was elected the first superior of the new community.

The new community's members dedicated themselves to the care of their aged charges. Mother Teresa of Jesus taught her Sisters to sacrifice their own personal comforts for that of the men and women for whom they cared, to the point of denying themselves even coats in the winter, which could be given to them. In addition to her intense commitment, she was noted for a strong air of serenity all her life, all of which drew many young women to join in her work.

An outbreak of cholera hit Spain in 1897. Teresa joined other members of the congregation in their non-stop care of the victims of this plague. By the time it had ended, twenty-four Little Sisters and seventy of their patients had succumbed to the disease. Worn out by this effort, Teresa retired to the house in Liria, south of Valencia. It was there that she died, on August 26. By the time of her death, the congregation had grown to fifty houses.

Pope Pius XII beatified her in 1958 and she was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1974. Her feastday is celebrated on August 26, the anniversary of her death.

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