Celebrating a ministry that ‘sings the elderly into heaven’
Retired Bishop Joseph Sartoris will be honored during fundraiser to support the Little Sisters of the Poor.
When the elderly residing at Jeanne Jugan Residence in San Pedro are ready to leave this world they have been prepared for a great celebration and they do not have to do it alone.
The Little Sisters of the Poor (LSP) have been serving the needy elderly of Southern California for decades, many times “singing the person into heaven.”
That is just one of the facts that retired Bishop Joseph “Joe” Sartoris, former Auxiliary Bishop for the San Pedro Pastoral Region, mentioned about the Sisters’ steadfast ministry.
He learned about their service in 1941 while attending the Minor Seminary. Since then he has been supporting the LSP, first as a priest, then in his role as bishop and today as a retired bishop.
For his continued support, Bishop Sartoris will be honored this year during the June 23 “Winners Route” annual dinner sponsored by the Auxiliary of the Little Sisters of the Poor, to take place at the Toyota USA Automobile Museum in Torrance.
“Bishop Joe has been very close [to the Jeanne Jugan Residence],” said Rita Swartz, the Auxiliary’s second vice president and the home’s director of development.
“Yearly, on the feast of St. John (Dec. 27), Archbishop John Cantwell would celebrate the day by visiting the LSP and the residents,” recalled Bishop Sartoris. At that time the residence was located at 2700 E. First Street in Boyle Heights.
The archbishop would ask the seminarians to attend and sing, he noted.
“While the singing may not have been memorable,” he quipped, “the hospitality of the Sisters was, and the visits continued until the archbishop died in 1947.”
In the early 1950s, the newly ordained priests visited convents to offer Mass. While awaiting his first assignment and during the Feast of Corpus Christi then Father Sartoris (ordained in 1953) was invited by the LSP to offer Mass and celebrate the Feast.
Following the European tradition, the celebration included a procession of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction taking place at various stations or altars, which the Sisters set up in the residence gardens.
“It was an unforgettable way to begin my priesthood and cement friendships with the Sisters,” he said.
So when he was ordained bishop and assigned to the San Pedro Region, the LSP were no strangers. By that time (1994) the Sisters had already moved from downtown Los Angeles to San Pedro.
“It’s not easy to be joyful as the Sisters are when someone is dying,” he added. “They help the person to let go. I have an admiration for them, for their selflessness.
“They dedicate part of their lives to begging and it’s not for themselves,” he continued.
Sister Paul Mgyar, San Pedro’s LSP Mother, said the admiration is mutual.
“He’s there all the time for us, to preside at Mass or support in any other way,” she said.
The residence is licensed to provide nursing care to 82 residents ages 55 and up, who stay at the home for an average of five years. The waiting list is long and the main requirement is to prove low income and low assets.
Aside from the 105 employees, volunteers play an important and needed role, especially in providing support in recreational activities. Currently, there are about 90 volunteers whose tasks vary from teaching crafts and arts lessons to transporting the residents to doctors’ appointments, music concerts or operas.
The LSP Auxiliary is also a key complementary part of the ministry. The proceeds from fundraisers that the 20-year-old 200-member organization sponsors, is a needed financial supplement to assist the LSP with operating costs and special needs.
“It’s about honoring the elderly,” said founding member Kathy Gordon, who currently supports with marketing and publicity. “There’s beauty and wisdom in older people.”
“The Sisters’ reverence and respect for our people in the last years of life is a powerful pro-life statement for which all of us are grateful,” concluded Bishop Sartoris.
To volunteer, for donations, or for more information about the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Jeanne Jugan Residence and the Auxiliary of the LSP, call (310)548-0625 or visit www.littlesistersofthepoorsanpedro.org.