Little Sisters of the Poor still need help from the community

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The Little Sisters of the Poor have a clear and simple message to share with the St. Louis community: They're still here and they still need your help.

In August, the sisters announced a plan to withdraw from their ministry in St. Louis after 147 years. They cited an aging community and decrease in sufficient vocations to effectively staff their residence for the needy elderly in north St. Louis.

The primary reason for the announcement was so that the sisters could launch a search for a new sponsor for the home in north St. Louis, which has 82 residents and 125 employees. The sisters are working with Clayton Capital Partners, a Clayton-based investment banking firm that specializes in merger and acquisition advisement, to find a new owner.

That announcement has affected the financial support the sisters need to effectively run the residence while seeking a sponsor, said administrator Sister Paul Mary Wilson. As part of her additional role as the community's "begging sister," she regularly speaks at Masses to request donations for the residence. Scheduling those visits has become challenging, in part because of the perception that the sisters already have left St. Louis.

"We have the same number of residents ... and the show is going on," she said. "We're admitting new residents, but we're not getting as many applications as we used to, because people think the sisters are gone already. We're still here and we're still taking residents."

The residence still has other costs, too.

In January, the air handler, which circulates fresh air through the building, froze during an ice storm; repairs cost about $18,000. In the process, they discovered the air compressors needed replacing, which cost an additional $10,600. The sisters also recently needed to have the facility's plumbing cleaned out, which was another significant expense.

"It's a building that never stands still," she said. "We always use the donations for whatever needs to be done in house."

In-kind donations — food, car repairs, dental and vision checkups for the sisters, medical equipment and other needs for the community — remain steady primarily because of the longstanding relationships with individuals and businesses. The sisters' tradition of begging follows in the tradition of foundress St. Jeanne Jugan, who begged for items to care for the poor in France.

The timing of the sisters' departure depends on finding a new sponsor. Sister Paul Mary said they currently are evaluating two candidates, both of whom have expressed a similar philosophy as that of their mission. Meetings are expected to begin sometime in March; however, she reiterated that a deadline for the sisters' departure won't be set until contract negotiations begin.

When a new sponsor is found, the eight sisters in St. Louis will move to other community-sponsored residences in the United States. They also have offered to assist residents who wish to move to another facility operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The sisters have one other residence in Missouri, in Kansas City.

"We want everyone to know we're not leaving until all of this is set for the residents," Sister Paul Mary said. 

>> Little Sisters of the Poor benefit dinner

The 27th annual dinner to benefit the Little Sisters of the Poor will be held at Kemoll's "Top of the Met" restaurant Downtown on Thursday, April 20.

Tickets are $150 per person. Individual seats and group seating of 6, 8, 10 or any larger party are available. Sponsorships also are available. For more information, call (314) 421-6022 or email dvstlouis@littlesistersofthepoor.org. To purchase tickets online, visit www.littlesistersofthepoorstlouis.org. 

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