On Wednesday,, Feb. 8, Sister Constance Veit of the Little Sisters of the Poor addressed the entire student body in the Kevin Kline Theatre before classes got underway. Father Gregory and other Saint Louis Abbey monks heard Sister Constance speak at the Portsmouth Institute’s June gathering on “Christian Courage in a Secular Age,” and he invited her here to share her story with the Priory family. She serves as communications director for the Sisters.
Sister Constance’s presentation, “This Vast Cloud of Witnesses,” covered some of the many Catholic martyrs from the early history of her order and of the Carmelites, and continued through the Little Sisters of the Poor’s current struggle with the Supreme Court to maintain religious liberty. She spoke about how many of her predecessors have been forced to shed their blood for their faith, whereas today’s protracted legal battle is more of a “polite persecution.” She admitted that she doesn’t think of the sisters in her order as particularly courageous, but has come to realize that they are serving as a symbol of courage for many people. “While we never thought that we would go all the way to the Supreme Court, we do believe that this is all part of God’s plan,” she said.
The Little Sisters of the Poor were at the Supreme Court last March for oral arguments in their case (Zubik v. Burwell), and Sister Constance had feared it would be a difficult day at best. She imagined how Jesus must have felt, standing up to Pontius Pilate. Instead, she said, “we were carried by our supporters gathered outside, by those all over the world, and by those reaching down to us from heaven. It was a day full of energizing light and joy, an early Easter.” She spoke about how she came to believe that saints have been “put in charge of all of us, caring for us, and enabling us to see this case through to its logical conclusion.”
Saint Jeanne Jugan, L.S.P., the foundress of Little Sisters of the Poor, began her ministry to the poor elderly in the winter of 1839. Since then, thousands of Little Sisters have carried on her work. Her perseverance serves as a catalyst to Sister Constance, along with her patron saint, the martyrs of Compiegne, and the work of her predecessors through times of revolution and change.
As she waited for the day to begin at the Supreme Court last March, Sister Constance realized she was grateful for the “army of humble saints on whose shoulders I stand.” The legacy of the Little Sisters of the Poor allows her to take “the long view” relative to her place in history. She reflected on the words of the Lord to Saint Paul, “Do not be afraid…I have many people in this city.” She said, “Whether the city is Washington, D.C., or St. Louis, or our nation, or the world, there are many people of God.” Her fear abated, and she realized, “After all, as Christians, we know who wins in the end.”
For more information about the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor, visit http://littlesistersofthepoor.org/. To learn more about the annual summer conference at the Portsmouth Institute, visit http://portsmouthinstitute.org/.