August 29 – Anastasius of Strumica; Jeanne Jugan

Anastasius of Strumica (d. 1794) was from Radovicha in the Strumitza Eparchy (now in the Republic of Macedonia). His parents bade him study to be a soldier, so he did. When he was twenty, he went to Thessalonica with his teacher, of whom we will have nothing positive to say. This teacher wanted to sell some clothes but didn’t want to pay the extra tax required of Christians by the Ottomans, so he dressed Spaso up as a Turk (“These, um, clothes are too small for me, yeah, so, um, you get to do it. Yeah.”), and sent him into the market. I’ll bet you can see what’s coming.

Spaso was stopped and asked for his tax receipt. Heart pounding, he said he was a Turk and didn’t have to pay the tax. The collectors looked at him sidelong and asked him to recite the Shahada. Of course he couldn’t, so he was taken to the commander. The commander suggested that he might consider a change of faiths, and when Spaso refused, he was taken away to the chief tax collector. The chief tax collector used flattery and threats to get him to renounce his faith, but that didn’t work either. The chief asked the mufti for advice, and was told, “You have a sword and you have the law. Use one of them and stop bugging me.” So the chief sent Spaso to the mullah, along with five “witnesses” to testify that he had blasphemed Islam. “No I didn’t,” Spaso insisted, “although I did diss your silly customs.” They tortured him and led him out to be hanged, but he fell down and died from his wounds before they could get to the gibbet. The teacher, doubtless, went on to commit other acts of abject bravery. (Actually we hope he repented of his cowardice and received forgiveness. Well, I do. I hope you do, too.)

Jeanne Jugan (1792–1879) was a fisherman’s daughter in Cancale (“The Oyster Capital of France”) (I didn’t make that up). Her father was lost at sea when she was four, and her mother did farm work to feed her eight children, catechizing them in secret due to the anti-Christian atmosphere of the French Revolution (c’est le liberté). At sixteen Jeanne went to work for a Viscountess as a kitchen maid. The Viscountess, a devout Christian, took Jeanne with her when she delivered food to the poor. Jeanne turned down a marriage proposal at 18, and again at 24 (same guy; clearly he was no great catch). At 25, she joined a lay order, and worked as a nurse at the hospital in Saint-Servan, some 15 km. southwest of Cancale on the D355. After six years of nursing she was physically exhausted and, unable to afford a vacation at a fancy Swiss sanitorium, left the hospital and went back to maiding. She lived in a house with two other women, and together they prayed, catechized, and helped the poor.

One day Jeanne came upon an old woman who had no one to look after her. She took her home and gave her her own bed, trundling herself off to sleep in the attic. One elderly lady turned into three, then a dozen, and before you could say “Little Sisters of the Poor,” they had purchased a derelict monastery and started a mendicant* order* dedicated to caring for poor elderly women. By 1850 they had over a hundred sisters, and houses in many places (including, and this is important although I don’t know why, Tours).

But there were clouds on the horizon. Auguste Le Pailleur, the priest appointed as superior general of the congregation, forced Jeanne out of her role as director, eradicated all record of her role in founding the order, and kept her in enforced solitude for 27 years, during which Jeanne patiently supported the order by her prayers. In the year of her death, the pope (Leo XIII) approved the order’s constitutions, but he knew nothing about Jeanne. Shortly after her death, however, Le Pailleur was investigated and disciplined, and her role as foundress was made known. She was canonized in 2009 by Benedict XVI.