Little Sisters of the Poor

“Something for the poor, please, in God’s name,”[1] begged the Little Sisters of the Poor as they sought, door-to-door, relief for the sick, the poor and the aged. Canvassing the neighborhoods and business districts, they served Catholics and non-Catholics alike in what was likely the first religious home for the aged poor in Nashville.


A Community devoted to good works and mercy on behalf of society’s neediest, this order was founded in 1633 in Paris, France.  Often called the “Grey Sisters” due o their distinctive blue-grey habits, their work consisted of establishing hospitals, schools and asylums across France and Europe.  Their tasks consisted of providing hot meals, education and spiritual care.


Rising at 4 am for Mass and prayer, the remainder of their days was spent in direct assistance to and on behalf of the poor and aged, pausing only occasionally to examine their consciences, meditate and pray.


The society was founded in America in 1809 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Taking as their motto the words of Jesus, “So long as you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me”, they operated 130 academies, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, industrial and parochial schools.  By 1915 they operated houses in 30 cities from New York to California and from Grand Rapids Michigan to Puerto Rico, including Nashville.


They were called to Nashville by Bishop Byrne as one of his many commitments to social service, charity and education in the city.  Charged with operating a home for the aged poor, they first were located near the Cathedral downtown and then in a former orphanage before locating east of the river near St. Columba’s Church.


Although their building was a casualty of the Great Fire in 1916, the blaze did not consume their spirit.  To escape the fire, one sister carried a resident from the building on her back.  After the fire they relocated to South Nashville to a new facility. 


Note: this short essay was greatly improved and expanded for publication by Barbara J. Baltz, Archivist, Catholic Diocese of Nashville.  What you read in the book is much better than what I have here.

[1] Thomas Stritch, The Catholic Church in Tennessee, The Sesquicentennial Story. Nashville: The Catholic Center, 1987, 272.

2 thoughts on “Little Sisters of the Poor

  1. You are mistaken in the information given about the Little Sisters of the Poor. I think there is a confusion with the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. The Little Sisters of the Poor were founded in Brittany in 1839, not in Paris in 1633. We were never called the grey sister, in fact our habit was always black. Our sole apostolate has always been the care of the aged poor, not academies, hospitals, etc as mentioned. And we were never in Emmitsburg. THat would be the Daughters of Charity as established by St Elizabeth Ann Seton.

    Our foundress, Blessed Jeanne Jugan, will be canonized later this year by Pope Benedict XVI.

    Thank you for clarifying this information.

    Sr Constance, lsp
    Publications Office, Little Sisters of the Poor

    • O dear. That’s not good. I apologize for the error. I will go back to my sources, the Stritch history of the Catholic Church in Tennessee and the old Catholic Encyclopedia article. I will also double check the book to see how my draft was edited by the Diocese Archivist. It will likely be next week at the earliest before I can give it the attention it deserves. Thank you for the comment and clarification.

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