Tag: Sr. Mary Elizabeth (page 1 of 2)

Newsletter: May 2019

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

We were talking not that long ago about what it means to be in charge. We laughed because being the “head honcho” is not always glamorous. In our line of work, it usually means you’re the one pushing a broom, cleaning up after everyone has left.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, given what Jesus did at the Last Supper. It was His last chance to tell His disciples what it’s all about, and He opted for a visual sermon. Jesus did something that caught His disciples off guard and left an image they would never forget: He washed their feet, the most humble and lowliest job imaginable.

This needs to be burned into our minds, too.

As the founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling was always the one in charge. In many ways it came naturally to her. But her abilities never blinded her to the teachings of Jesus. She would tell us over and over again to avoid anything resembling a “professional” attitude. By that she meant being attached to power and the trappings and privileges of power. All the things that place someone over and above someone else.

She left no shortage of examples to get her point across. Sr. Connie fondly remembers when she first came to work at the Crisis Center and needed a desk. Sr. Mary Elizabeth promptly turned over a trash can and voila! — there was her desk.

Yes, those were the days!

But there was a reason for what she did. Sr. Mary Elizabeth knew the value of humility. It guards against sinful pride and it helps us become approachable and non-threatening. Sister wanted us to embrace our “littleness.” She wanted us to be present to those in need face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to listen. We should be willing to wash another’s feet without hesitation, and have that willingness apparent in our demeanor. We can’t hide behind job titles.

If she gave us a high standard to live up to, well, so did Jesus.

This spirit of loving service unites us with you, and together with your support we translate love for others into concrete action. Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “We are free to do for the poor what the poor need.” She had in mind a freedom from red tape and overbearing regulations, and also a freedom of the heart, a freedom to love without reserve. A freedom to do whatever is needed.

Eloise was surprisingly calm given her situation. Her strength and intelligence were serving her well. Eloise is married, but her husband was locked up awaiting trial on a DUI charge. She said he is a good and responsible person, except when he is drinking. Then, she said, he is terrible.

Eloise and her husband have six children. They live in a one-room apartment. After her husband was arrested, Eloise suddenly became the provider for the family. She found a job at a nursery, but it wasn’t going to start for a little while. Her badly needed paycheck was weeks away. Eloise came to the Crisis Center, where we listened to the sad tale of her struggle. Behind in the rent and electric, no food for her children, she didn’t know what to do. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, we were able to act immediately: $300 for the rent, $100 for the electric, and more groceries than she could carry.

Many senior folks come to our Crisis Center. Veronica is 86 and a widow. For the past year her home has been infested with bed bugs and others pests. Living on a very small income, she didn’t have the funds to do anything about it. She came to see us and we paid $350 to an exterminator… Floyd, 69, lives alone out in the country. He tries to find work cutting grass for extra money, but it’s often not enough. We paid $200 to stop an electric cut-off.

Another common occurrence is people unable to work because of health problems. For Patty, 56, cancer took away her house. Medical bills and loss of work forced her to let go of just about everything. She now rents a room but still needs help sometimes. We sent $225 to the electric company on her behalf… Laurel, 50, takes care of her adult son who is learning disabled. She suffered a series of strokes and is now trying to get by on a very limited income. We sent $160 to her landlord to stop an eviction… Jason, 58, cannot work because of a seizure disorder. He fell behind in paying his bills and was dropped from the payment plan with the electric company. He could only pay $63; our contribution of $170 helped to bring his account up to date and prevent a cut-off.

Thank you for your support. We can do what needs to be done because of you!

“There are as many ways to serve God as there are people.” That was another guiding principle from Sr. Mary Elizabeth, and it certainly applies to all the people who work “behind the scenes” at the Joseph House. We need to give recognition to one such individual, Ella Duma, who retired as our bookkeeper on May 1 after 23 years of service. Ella came to work in our convent office in 1995. So much has changed since then, but Ella has been a constant presence, putting up with us, keeping our records in order, and so much more. Quite simply, her work kept the lifeblood flowing that enabled our service to those in need. We will miss her, and wish her all the best as she spends more time with her delightful grandchildren. Niech cię Bóg błogosławi!

We didn’t have to look far for a new bookkeeper. Heidi Price, who was our secretary, moved over to Ella’s desk, and a new addition to our staff, Tina Schrider has taken over Heidi’s responsibilities. In other personnel news, Nicole Soder has joined our community as a Postulant. Nicole comes to us from Ohio, and she is here to discern more closely her vocation as a Little Sister of Jesus and Mary.

It’s been a season of change and transition. We pray that God will bless everyone who is beginning a new journey, and may God’s love for you be your constant strength.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


You can be the answer to someone’s prayers. Make a donation online.

Please send us your prayer requests so we can pray for your needs.

When you don’t believe, believe anyhow

Charles de Foucauld composed this prayer as he meditated on the death of Jesus on the Cross:

This was the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved. May it also be ours. And may it be not only that of our last moment, but also of our every moment:

Father,

I abandon myself into Your hands;
do with me what You will.
Whatever You may do, I thank You:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into Your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You with all the love of my heart,
for I love You Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into Your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for You are my Father.

Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, made this prayer central to our spirituality:

The first prayer we say every day is the Abandonment Prayer of Brother Charles, which is a very beautiful prayer in which we give ourselves totally to God.

Abandonment simply means that you give yourself completely to God in such a way that you trust Him with everything that He has in mind for you, and that each morning you just give yourself to Him completely, and you’re at ease and at rest because you know that He is going to take care of you. Maybe He’s not going to do it your way, but He’s going to do it His way, which is a lot better.

Sometimes you’re a little afraid of what is He going to want to do. You don’t always feel like you’re ready for it, but that’s what takes faith. It just takes faith. We like to make our own plans….

I can assure you there were many times when I thought that I could not go on with some of the things that I had to bear. It’s just trust. And if you can trust, God will certainly take care of this matter, but give yourself to Him. That’s what we mean by abandonment. It’s when you don’t believe, believe anyhow.

A Good Foundation in Life

Without a good foundation, nothing will stand.

Buildings crumble and arguments fall apart if they lack the necessary support beneath them. Human societies also need to rest on something — something that is solid but flexible, dynamic yet enduring. That something is the family.

Families are the foundation of society because they create people, not just in the biological sense, but in terms of forming the whole person. And this applies not only to children, but adults, too, since we never stop growing. The family is the school of charity where we learn our identity and mission, both of which are found in God, and both of which are defined by one word: love.

Members of a family protect, care, and provide for each other. An essential part of our ministry at the Joseph House is to support each of these functions of family life. For the single mother who wants to protect her children from the chaos of the streets, we pay past-due rent bills to forestall an eviction. For the elderly couple in failing health, we pay for medications so one spouse can care for the other. For the man who is looking for a job so he can provide for his wife and children, we pay for ID cards and work uniforms.

Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, grew up in a loving and supportive family, and like many people she considered it the fundamental blessing in her life. With her keen memory she loved to tell stories of when she was young:

My mother always wore an apron and would take the apron off before my father came home. She would make sure her hair was combed and everything was neat. And she would have his bedroom slippers out for him sitting beside the rocking chair where he could lean down to put them on, and the newspaper was on the table beside it for him when he came in.

You know it’s very nice to learn to be respectful like that as a child.

My father was a very non-threatening person…. When we were sick in bed, at night in the evening after work he would come home and bring our supper upstairs to us, and after we were finished with our supper he would sit under the gas lamp in the hallway on 23rd Street in Baltimore and he would read to us.

On Saturdays, that was pay day, he would give my mother the money for the house and then we would all stand around and he would give to us according to our age. He would give us a little spending money. He was a good daddy. He certainly was. He always provided well for us, did kind things, we could always depend on him.

Sister’s parents, Dessie and Hal Gintling.

With my father, it didn’t make any difference who needed to have a home, if we had an empty place it was alright with him. We never heard him say anything about these things at all. My mother would make the arrangements…. My father would just figure out what he should do and what he shouldn’t do and what was the right thing to do.

Sister absorbed the lessons of her upbringing and went on to start the Joseph House. Could her parents ever have imagined how their simple acts of love would bear fruit?

Never underestimate the seeds you plant today in your own family.


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A Community in the Footsteps of Br. Charles

Our founder used to say, “A community is not so much a group of people living together to love Christ as it is a group of people loving Christ together.”

Being together physically to form a community is not always possible. Distance can keep people apart, not to mention their commitments and circumstances.

Now, thanks to the Internet, there is a new online community called the Companions of Jesus of Nazareth. It hopes to fill a need for those who desire a community in order to “love Christ together.”

This community is open to people from all walks of life – men and women, married, single, lay, ordained, and a variety of faith traditions. What unites them is a desire to become more like Jesus through an understanding of the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, who is an inspiration for the ministry of the Joseph House.

The Companions of Jesus is under the leadership of Rev. Leonard Tighe, an authority on the life of Br. Charles and a long-time friend of the Little Sisters.

The website has more information. Check it out – this may be something you’ve been looking for:

https://www.companionsofjesusofnazareth.com

It is ironic that in our age of instant electronic communication many people feel isolated. The Companions of Jesus is using that technology to bring people together, all the while each person is living his or her own “Nazareth,” the particular place where God has planted them.

A sense of belonging is such a help to our spiritual growth. Jean Vanier, a pioneer in the healing power of communities, said it well:

We have been drawn together by God to be a sign of the Resurrection and a sign of unity in this world where there is so much division and inner and outer death. We feel small and weak, but we are gathered together to signify the power of God who transforms death into life. That is our hope, that God is doing the impossible: changing death to life inside of each of us, and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.

Newsletter: May 2018

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our founder, had a vision for our ministry that continues to guide us. When she started the Joseph House, she had next to nothing apart from a few principles in mind. These principles, and the rationale behind them, were explained by her in this way:

1). Joseph House helps the poor.
We wanted to help the people who fall through the cracks of the welfare system and who cannot receive help elsewhere.

2). Joseph House uses volunteers.
We wanted to give people the opportunity to share in acts of Christian charity. We also wanted to minimize operating expenses so most of our money would go toward direct aid to the poor.

3). Joseph House depends on Divine Providence.
Through the generosity of free-will donations of money, food, and other resources we wanted to avoid government funding and the restrictions and regulations that often accompany it. We wanted the freedom of the Holy Spirit in responding to the needs of the poor.

These three points are just as relevant today as they were 52 years ago when the first Joseph House opened in Baltimore on May 1, 1966. Today we carry on the good work Sr. Mary Elizabeth started, reaching out to people in need to relieve their distress, offer them hope, and uphold their dignity.

We’d like to share with you a story from one of our volunteers that beautifully ties together what Sister envisioned. Jerry has been doing amazing work helping people find employment, whether at the Crisis Center, the Joseph House Workshop, or the Village of Hope. He goes above and beyond the call of duty. A few weeks ago, Jerry met Mary in our Hospitality Room for men and women who are homeless. Mary was definitely someone who had “fallen through the cracks.” As can be seen in Jerry’s write-up, however, her life was about to take a turn for the better:

Mary had just been released from the county jail. We interviewed her, helped her get an e-mail address, created a résumé, performed on-line job searches, wrote cover letters, helped fill out job applications and drove her to interviews with prospective employers. She recently had a second successful interview with one of the employers we helped her target, and she gladly accepted their job offer. She reported for orientation a few days later.

Needless to say, Mary is thrilled with the services we provided. Our volunteers who work in this area are equally joyous each time they help one of our clients become self sufficient.

A lot has changed over the years, but “the poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26:11). For people living in poverty, the world keeps creating new barriers for them. The latest is the digital divide — the gap between those who have access to the Internet and technology and those who don’t. That was an obstacle facing Mary until Jerry helped her get to the other side.

We are so happy that the Joseph House allowed these two individuals to cross paths. And they’re just one example. The transformations that occur are life-changing — for everyone involved!

There’s something Sister didn’t mention in her vision for the Joseph House, but it’s always been present in our service to those in need: loving personal concern. She in fact set the standard. Whether in our Hospitality Room, Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry, Financial Assistance department, or at the Joseph House Workshop, our service is never simply the mechanical distribution of goods. Everything is done person-to-person, motivated by a desire to love thy neighbor.

There are many people alone and adrift with nowhere to go for help. We are here for them because of your donations.

Sybil, 51, is coping with mental health issues and living in someone’s garage. Her income is only $195 per month (Temporary Disability). Sybil came to the Crisis Center and asked for one thing: money to see a dentist. We paid $150 so she could make an appointment.

Harvey, 63, needed to move from the house he has lived in his entire life. Badly run-down, his home was returning to the elements from which it came. Mice and insects were speeding up the process. Harvey is limited in what he can do for himself. We paid $200 toward the security deposit so he could move into a place that will be easier for him to manage.

Edwina, 62, is trying to work while being treated for cancer, but sometimes the pain from radiation treatments is too much. She’s had to cut back her hours from her job in a cafeteria. With her reduced income, the rent has been taking almost all of her money. We paid $200 toward her past-due electric bill to keep the power on in her apartment.

Margot, 28, has a four-year-old daughter and newborn twins, a boy and a girl. She took a maternity leave from her job, believing that her husband would be able to take care of the bills. He, however, is a veteran and suffering from PTSD. His violent episodes became so severe that he needed to be hospitalized. The family’s income quickly dropped to zero. Margot’s landlord said something had to be paid toward the rent or else an eviction was likely to happen. We sent $300 to buy Margot some time.

The mission of the Joseph House goes forward because friends like you have been part of it from Day One. Sr. Mary Elizabeth could not do it alone and neither can we. Thank you for your donations, financial contributions, prayers, and encouragement. Learn how you can help: Donate.

We remember you faithfully every day in our prayers. You are precious to God and to us.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


URGENT REQUEST: We need a full-size pickup truck for our Crisis Center. The truck will be used primarily for our Food Pantry and must be suitable for heavy-duty work. Our current truck is ready to be retired after 300,000 miles of commendable service. If you can help in any way please Contact Us.

What am I preaching with my life?

Our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth was inspired by Br. Charles de Foucauld, who wrote:
Let us preach the Gospel in silence and with words….

It is the responsibility of all to preach in silence.

As for preaching with words, some should do it more than others,

but there are very few who should not do it at all.

This is according to each one’s vocation.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling made preaching the Gospel her life’s work.

What made it natural for her was that she let the Gospel shape every aspect of her life. She could not not preach the Gospel by the way she lived. Anything she might possibly call her own she gave back to God. He had access to everything.

Sister exemplified the observation of St. Vincent de Paul: “If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.”

She had a few big moments in her life, but like everyone else her days were filled with little ones. She did the same things, with the same people, day in and day out. She “preached” a lot in those moments, giving witness to the love and mercy of God by being loving and merciful herself. Br. Charles said his goal was to have people look at him and say, “If that is the servant, imagine what the Master must be like!” Sister took that approach, too.

For personal reflection: What am I preaching by the way I live my life? I might be the only sermon someone else hears today.

Newsletter: October 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

She was born in Philadelphia and raised in Baltimore.

She lived in a house built by her father on the banks of North Point Creek, from where she liked to set out in a row boat and go crabbing.

Trained as a registered nurse, she had several “careers,” and wasn’t afraid to start a new one at age 50 with nothing but a suitcase in hand.

When she was feeling burned out she sought advice from Mother Teresa.

She was fluent in French, had an eye for art, was an astute businesswoman and never owned a credit card.

She never married but was a mother to many.

She was, of course, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, the founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary. It has been thirteen years since she passed away from this earthly life on October 27, 2004.

Sister is with us in spirit and we see her handiwork everywhere we look. We’re speaking of the buildings where we live and serve the poor, and also of something deeper, on the inside. Hopefully we are not the same people we once were.

Her sense of mission was guided by the Mystical Body of Christ: we are many parts yet one body, and if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12:20,26). Sister felt that intensely. She told us, “When you see someone who is suffering, you realize that God is in that person. And He is suffering in that person. And if there’s anything I can do to help, to improve that situation, to let someone know his own value, I will do it.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth visiting her family home. Photo taken in 1999.

We carry on the work she started and make it our own in the here and now. In one of the last staff meetings she attended, Sister gave us these words of encouragement, as recorded in the minutes: “Don’t give in, and don’t give up. It is such a privilege to work for God. Don’t cut God short, be happy He picked you. God picks those who are lowly, He wants to defeat His enemies that way.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth knew that our work with the poor would be impossible without the support of countless individuals who want to share what they have with the less fortunate. Thank you for being a part of our ministry. You are the agents of Divine Providence for the Joseph House. Together we show solidarity with the weak and the poor, give hope and dignity to the destitute, and extend a hand to people in need.

Chantell, 48, has two children and lives on a monthly disability check. After falling behind in paying her electric bill, the power was turned off in her home and she was removed from the utility’s budget plan. That was more than 60 days ago. To get the power back on Chantell needs to pay the entire balance due, a large amount. She has been slowly raising the money but ran out of options as she approached her goal. She came to the Joseph House for help and we sent $200 to the electric company.

Cynthia, 72, also needed help with her electric bill, but it was the last thing on her mind. She is being treated for cancer of the jaw and throat. She was in the hospital recently for surgery and her daughter Marian came to see us on her behalf. Marian lost her job and is not able to help her mother as she normally does. We sent $200 to the electric company to help stop the impending cut-off in Cynthia’s home.

Leona, 51, needed help buying prescriptions, but she also needed to talk and have someone listen. After many surgeries for a brain disorder, her husband is now legally blind. Leona has become his “eyes” for him, and although they both keep a positive attitude, coping with this loss has been difficult. It’s hard to be brave and strong 24 hours a day. The Joseph House paid the pharmacy bill of $132. We also found out that Blind Industries has been a terrific resource for Leona’s husband.

Madeleine, 44, has been out of work for two months after falling and injuring herself. She has one daughter and has been living on the $310 monthly child support. Madeleine is rapidly falling behind in all of her bills. She came to the Joseph House because the water in her home was scheduled to be turned off. We paid the $202 bill. Madeleine works as a nursing assistant, and she said her doctor will soon give her clearance to return to her job.

Anna, 63, was finally approved for subsidized housing. She is disabled and was not keeping up with her basic expenses. In order to move into her subsidized apartment, however, Anna needed to pay a deposit, which was impossible given her budget. Fortunately, the Joseph House was able to make the $300 payment to the Housing Authority.

There are moments of joy and relief every day at the Crisis Center. Thank you for making them happen. You are a blessing to us and to the poor.

We depend on your generosity. You can donate online here.

Do you have a copy of the book about Sr. Mary Elizabeth? Entitled Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling: A Life For God, it can be ordered through our website (Book on our Founder) or from your favorite bookseller.

Click here for a newspaper profile of Sr. Mary Elizabeth.

With our love and prayers,

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

Newsletter: August 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Every organization and institution, whether it is civic, business, religious, or charitable, has its own style of operation. It’s not just what they do, but how they do it that sets them apart. This is true of the Joseph House, and our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth looked to a particular person for inspiration: Charles de Foucauld, who also went by Br. Charles of Jesus.

Given that he was a hermit in the Sahara Desert more than 100 years ago, it’s not surprising that Charles is a mystery to many people. René Bazin, his first biographer, didn’t think Charles was important enough to warrant a book. He had to be convinced otherwise, and fortunately he was. Bazin’s Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer, published in 1923 in English, kept alive the memory of this fascinating and saintly figure. This passage from the book shows why the life of Charles found a home in the heart and mind of Sr. Mary Elizabeth:

“Charles was one who gave a fraternal welcome to the poorest and most unknown and undeserving of neighbors, who never let it be suspected that he was put out, and was willing to waste his time for talking with God upon unreliable nomads, corrupt slaves, beggars and bores.

“Every minute somebody would come and open the door, and Brother Charles appeared with his beautiful eyes full of serenity, his head bent forward a little, and his hand already held out. . . .

“He wrote : ‘I wish to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews and idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, the universal brother. . . . They begin to call the house the Fraternity (the Khaua, in Arabic), and I am delighted.’

“This beautiful word suits our missionary and might describe him: he was truly the universal brother, not in words, but in deeds; he did not scatter political formulae, or promises which only add to the weight of wretchedness, but he forgot himself for the sake of his nearest neighbors, he spent beyond his means to feed them and to ransom them if ransomed they could be. His way was the silent way.”

Being available to the poor is at the heart of our ministry. Many people have good intentions for helping the poor, but far fewer have the inclination to “waste time” with them.

Charles did everything he could to address the material needs of the poor, but he gave them something else too: the fruit of his time spent in prayer and recollection. People have deep hungers that go beyond an empty stomach. Charles offered them the peace of Christ. The poor could see it in his face, they could know it by his actions and his unhurried sense of time, and in the way he made his home a home for everyone. He preached by example, letting charity be God’s ambassador.

Br. Charles distributing bread. Illustration by René Follet.

If the Joseph House is to have a corporate culture, we hope it resembles this. We want people in need to receive your generosity with love and respect. Along with our many volunteers, we do our best to make sure our ministry welcomes everyone. Hearts need to be open as much as the front door.

On a typical day, Charles might have received 70 poor people, plus 15 sick, 50 children, and 20 frail and elderly. We can sympathize. One will never be lonely working with the less fortunate.

Valencia, 63, was not in a good mood when she came to the Joseph House Crisis Center. We could understand why. Pain radiated from her hip that was healing from a fracture. Anyone of us in a similar situation would have wanted to be home resting, but an eviction notice from her landlord required Val to get up and look for help. She was angry and distraught and it took a little time to find out what was going on. Val regained her composure and explained that she lives alone and her monthly income of $756 doesn’t always cover her basic expenses. We agreed to send $200 to her landlord, alleviating one of the burdens Val is carrying.

Dominic, in his fifties, recently had two serious surgeries as part of his treatment for liver cancer. His doctor has ordered him not to work for several months. In the meantime, Dominic is trying to get by on a temporary disability payment of $640 monthly. It is not enough for his rent and utilities. A firm job offer for the fall and the promise of better health give him hope. We sent $225 to Dominic’s landlord. The Joseph House depends on Divine Providence, but the poor know what that really means.

Amber, 44, is another cancer patient. She’s been hospitalized and has received several rounds of chemotherapy. She believes the worst is behind her. Amber missed a lot of work during her illness and also a rent payment. This is a new experience for her since she has been a stable renter at her place for well over a decade. Her wages make it nearly impossible for her to catch up. Amber asked us for help; she especially didn’t want her son to undergo the trial of being homeless. We sent $225 to her landlord.

Ingrid and her three children were homeless. A shelter had beds for them and Ingrid found a job in a chicken factory. Unfortunately, they had to leave the shelter before Ingrid received a paycheck. To break the cycle of homelessness, we paid $170 toward the security deposit for an apartment for Ingrid and her family.

Jerrod, 32, works for a landscaper. He and his wife must both work to support their family of four, soon to be five. Jerrod came to the Joseph House shortly before his wife was due to give birth. She had stopped working temporarily, but this interruption for a natural and beautiful part of family life was wreaking havoc on their budget. Jerrod had an eviction notice with him and no means of paying the back rent by himself. Wanting Jerrod and his wife to welcome their new baby in an atmosphere of peaceful security, we mailed a check for $225 to their landlord.

Thank you for supporting the Joseph House. You’re the answer to someone’s prayer! Working together, the little that each of us can do adds up to something great. You can make a donation here.

May God smile upon you and guard you as the apple of His eye.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, is also a time to honor the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of the Fields.

From The Rural Life Prayerbook:
“When this great feast of the Mother of God is celebrated, nature is still arrayed in her summer glories, although the harvest has already begun. At this time, the Church blesses the finest grain, fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers.”

Psalm 65
Lord, you care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.

And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.

You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.

The hills are girded with joy,
the meadows covered with flocks,
the valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.

Profile: Sr. Mary Elizabeth

Sister and her beloved Ziggy.

In 1995, a local newspaper did a profile of Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters.

What was her greatest disappointment? What would she like to tell the youth of today? What trait did she admire the most in others? Read below to find out.


Joseph House Founder Opens Door to Homeless
Her greatest aim: Help others build values

Name: Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling

Family members (and ages): Two dogs: Fresca, 6, and Ziggy, 13. Four sisters in the convent in Salisbury and two in Baltimore as part of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary. Two brothers living in Baltimore.

Occupation: Founder and head of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, CEO and founder of Joseph House and Joseph House Village on the Eastern Shore.

What I like most about my job: The fact that we have no red tape. We are free to do for the poor what the poor need.

Previous occupations: I worked as a lay person with Joseph House in Baltimore before coming to the Shore in 1972 to find a new mission.

I had been religious for 21 years and was working with a group in Baltimore that only dealt with institutionalizing of people.

We (Patricia Ann Guidera, who came with Sister Mary Elizabeth to found Joseph House), wanted to come out into the countryside since there were so many agencies in Baltimore.

The first mission, Joseph House by the Sea, gift and religious book shop in Ocean City opened shortly after Sister Mary Elizabeth’s arrival on the Shore. The shop is still open today and all the proceeds from the shop are given to the poor.

From that first mission the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary decided to open Joseph House Center in Salisbury, which still provides support to the poor through food donations, and helping with medical, rent and utility payments.

Since 1989, Joseph House Village has provided “transitional living” for single mothers in helping them to find jobs and be able to support their families.

The Joseph House mission also includes helping to prevent homelessness by taking over a person’s finances when they are unable to handle it themselves for reasons of mental or social problems.

Sister Mary Elizabeth said Joseph House currently has 28 people that they are helping to live on their own.

If I had to pick a different occupation it would be: I’ve been doing this all my life. Even as a child I was attracted to trying to help people with their problems. I was about four-years old when I decided to become a nun. Otherwise I think my occupation would be fishing. I’m 80 years old and there’s no point in changing things now.

My interests and hobbies: My interests are naturally in religion and prayer and spending time with the Lord. My hobby is reading.

Not taking yourself too seriously is also important.

Community involvements and memberships: CEO of Joseph House and Joseph House Village.

Why I moved to this area: To found Joseph House and help the poor.

Length of time here: Almost 23 years.

Where I lived previously: I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Baltimore.

What I like most about living here: I like it here very much, I really feel at home here.

Changes I’d like to see in the community and why: For the people who have made it in life to try to understand the people who haven’t; not to do something for them, but do something with them. As far as Salisbury is concerned I couldn’t ask for better support than I have here. What they want to do is keep the community in good shape. I think they’re a very kind community.

My proudest accomplishment: I guess, I think the most difficult thing anyone has to do is to come up with their own decision that is life-directing.

My biggest ambition was to give up material ambitions and think of doing things for others.

My greatest disappointment: Not being able to give my values to some people.

My major goals: My major goal is to help people to establish good values.

My pet peeves: Talking on the telephone. I never make phone calls if I don’t have to. Shopping — can’t stand it.

My worst habit: Jumping to conclusions.

The trait I most admire in others: Honesty.

My heroes: Christ is my hero. But I most admire Dorothy Day. She’s the founder of the Catholic Worker and their hospitality houses. I’ve seen her walking around with holes in her stockings. She really lived what she preached.

My guiding philosophy: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.

My advice to today’s youth: Don’t let TV and Madison Avenue values rob you of the wonderful person you could be.


SOURCE: Salisbury News & Advertiser, Salisbury Maryland 21801 – August 16, 1995
Photos from the Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

Religious Habit

A magnet in the Little Sisters' convent.

A magnet in the Little Sisters’ convent.

Among other things, the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary are noted for wearing their habit, a distinctive blue dress with a matching veil. Article 11 of their Constitutions states:

An exterior sign of our consecration is the religious habit of our congregation. It must be worn at all times. Exceptions to this rule must come from the superior general or be stated in the directives. (1)

The decision to wear a habit was crystal clear to the founder of the Little Sisters, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling. She once told the story of how she came upon the design:

We wanted to pattern our lives after Br. Charles de Foucauld, and I said ‘We will have a habit.’ It’s a calling card. It’s a witness. And during the ’60s, it was a counter-culture thing for us to do. We wanted something that would be simple, non-threatening to the poor. (2)

Inspiration struck in a department store when she spied a mannequin dressed in a bright orange satin evening gown:

‘There it is,’ I told Sr. Patricia and she just looked at me like I was crazy. But I told her, ‘Just look at it. It’s perfect. It has no zippers, no buttons, just a hole to put your head through.’ We found the Vogue pattern and bought different sizes and then bought some blue denim material. (2)

Sister elaborated on her choice of the design:

I was determined, knowing how few people sew these days and how hard it would be if we didn’t have somebody in the community who could make our own habits. So I was determined that it was going to be something with no buttons, button holes, zippers [laughter] and nothing difficult about it. (3)

Blue denim-like material seems to be the established “look” for communities of women who follow the spirituality of Br. Charles. Is the color a nod to the beautiful virtues of the Virgin Mary? Is the material a sign of unity with the working people of the world? Yes and yes.

The habit designed by Sr. Mary Elizabeth is an adaptation of the one worn by the Little Sisters of Jesus, the first women’s community inspired by Charles de Foucauld (they were founded by Madeleine Hutin in 1939). Srs. Mary Elizabeth and Patricia Guidera spent time with the Little Sisters of Jesus in Washington, D.C. in June of 1974.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth recalled that encounter:

I guess that was when I asked them if they would help us. Also, I told them about the fact that I felt called to follow Brother Charles and wanted to know if that would be any kind of a threat to them. And that we wanted to wear a habit and wanted to be recognized as belonging to the de Foucauld family. Told them that our habit would look somewhat like theirs but would not be made the same. Wanted to know if that would be OK by them.

And they were extremely good to us. The provincial said that they never saw Brother Charles anymore than I have. [laughter] And that there was no monopoly on whether or not someone looked like them, and that we should just follow whatever we thought God wanted us to do. I felt very at ease with them. (3)

The following July 7, Abbot Edward McCorkell, O.C.S.O. blessed the habits of the new community at the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville, Virginia. The Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary consider this their Foundation Day.

Foundation Day and the first incarnation of the habit.

Foundation Day and the first incarnation of the habit.

Bea Piekarski, a friend and volunteer from Baltimore, made the first habits. Later modifications included using a simpler, lighter belt, re-doing the front placket to make the wearing of a dickey around the collar unnecessary, and removing the cap inside the veil.

A small wooden cross necklace completes the habit. When a Little Sister makes final vows, an image of the Crucified Christ is engraved on the cross.

In years past, the Little Sisters also wore a leather “heart and cross” insignia on the chest. Attached by velcro, it invariably peeled off whenever a Little Sister was carrying a load of boxes. Sr. Mary Elizabeth finally said “Enough!” and the insignia was removed from the habit permanently.

This photo shows the heart and cross insignia. Also, the Little Sisters used to wear a metal cross before switching to a wooden one. Photo taken in the Holy Land.

This photo shows the heart and cross insignia. Also, the Little Sisters used to wear a metal cross necklace before switching to a wooden one. Photo taken in the Holy Land.

Wearing a habit was crucial to Sr. Mary Elizabeth’s understanding of religious life. She always defended her decision to make it a requirement for the Little Sisters:

I felt that people who wanted to wear habits should feel free to wear the habit. And I can tell you right now it took us more courage to put on that habit than it did to make vows because everybody criticized us for wearing a habit. Here you are, in the middle of an effort for all the nuns to get some freedom and dress like the people today and you’re putting on a habit. And I said it’s because I believe in habits. And I intend to keep the freedom to wear one.

So it was very important to us, it indeed was. I still see the importance of it. I have never lost that because it’s what tells people who you are, which is very important. (3)

Of course, Sr. Mary Elizabeth understood that clothes do not make the man, or nun. She wrote in the Joseph House Newsletter:

She [the Little Sister] will always be a visible sign to those with whom she works, not only by her habit, but also by her actions. (4)

And in her directives concerning the Rule:

The habit makes us mindful of who we are, but does not make us who we are. (3)

The habit is a way to be in the world, but not of it. For the Little Sisters, the habit encapsulates their mission and lifestyle. As Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained:

That’s our vocation, to cry out the Gospel with our lives. We wanted to be poor, but we also wanted to identify our poverty with our vocation. So we designed a simple blue habit that makes it clear that what we do, we do for love of Jesus.

We don’t hide behind our habits. The poor recognize us and know that we are just as poor as they. The habits also keep us from getting caught up in materialistic pursuits. (5)

The habit is a witness of total dedication to Christ and a counter-cultural protest against the materialism of today:

It spares us having to keep up with current styles and having to be immodest to be in style. It says who we are and what we stand for. (3)

Women in formation to become Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary wear a variation of the habit. They start out with a simple uniform of a blue jumper, white blouse, and light blue veil. After completing the novitiate and professing first vows, they receive the habit.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth wearing the habit. This nice photo was taken in the Salisbury City Park.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth wearing the habit. This nice photo was taken in the Salisbury City Park.

Regarding the habit, Sr. Mary Elizabeth used to say whether a Little Sister is going to meet the Pope or mop the floor, she is ready.

Nevertheless, the Little Sisters tend to wear an everyday habit that is soft and a little faded, keeping another habit looking fresh for special occasions.

By the way, bleach was banned in the convent laundry room a long time ago. Accidentally tie-dyed habits are certainly not regulation.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth loved her habit, and she wanted her community of Little Sisters to share that love. She described it as a “peasant look.” Simple, sturdy, no fuss — it is the appropriate attire for a handmaiden of the Lord.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth was buried in her habit. It is her chosen garment for the Resurrection.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and Fr. Edward McCorkell, former abbot of the Trappist Monastery where Sister first received her habit. Photo taken in 2002.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and Fr. Edward McCorkell, former abbot of the Trappist Monastery where Sister first received her habit. Photo taken in 2002.

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SOURCES:

(1) Constitutions and Rule of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
(2) Zuniga, Marielena. (1985, August 2). Order’s foundress helps ‘poorest of the poor.’ The Dialog, pp. 1,5.
(3) Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
(4) Joseph House Newsletter, April, 1975.
(5) Brankin, Rev. Patrick. (1987, August/September). A new community grows. Extension, pp. 12-15.

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