Saint Joan of the Cross’ Story
An encounter with a shabby old woman many dismissed as insane prompted Saint Joan to dedicate her life to the poor. For Joan, who had a reputation as a businesswoman intent on monetary success, this was a significant conversion.
Born in 1666 in Anjou, France, Joan worked in the family business—a small shop near a religious shrine—from an early age. After her parents’ death she took over the shop. She quickly became known for her greediness and insensitivity to the beggars who often came seeking help.
That was until she was touched by the strange woman who claimed she was on intimate terms with the deity. Joan, who had always been devout, even scrupulous, became a new person. She began caring for needy children. Then the poor, elderly, and sick came to her. Over time, she closed the family business so she could devote herself fully to good works and penance.
She went on to found what came to be known as the Congregation of Saint Anne of Providence. It was then she took the religious name of Joan of the Cross. By the time of her death in 1736 she had founded 12 religious houses, hospices, and schools. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1982.
The downtown areas of most major cities hold a population of “street people.” Well-dressed folks usually avoid making eye contact, probably for fear of being asked for a handout. That was Joan’s attitude until the day one of them touched her heart. Most people thought the old woman was crazy, but she put Joan on the road to sainthood. Who knows what the next beggar we meet might do for us?
Prayer to St. Joan of the Cross
St. Joan, you were born as one of twelve children in Anjou, France. Your father was a draper and your mother ran a religious goods store. When your mother died, you took over the running of the store and hosting pilgrims who were coming to the nearby shrine. As a young woman you were described as outwardly devout, but selfish and greedy within. You had the store open on Sundays, which raised many eyebrows at the time.
One day a beggar woman who was thought crazy stopped by on her pilgrimage to the shrine. She claimed to hear the voice of God and told you that one day you would care for the poor and the sick. This experience changed you and you began caring for orphans and going out to visit those who were ill in the community. After some time, this practice consumed all your energy and you gave up the store to devote more hours to the poor. You attracted followers and thus the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Anne of Providence was born. At the time of your death you had a dozen communities as well as a home for orphans and a school.
St. Joan, you started out miserly but energetic; selfish, but skillful. You transformed these vices into virtues when you gave your whole heart to the Lord. Pray that we may be fully converted and devote the rest of our lives to God. St. Joan, your spiritual life was one of sacrifice, mortification, and prayer. Pray that we may give generously of ourselves to our neighbor in the spirit of poverty. St. Joan, your order continues to serve the poor throughout the world; pray for an increase of vocations to the religious life. Amen.
St. Joan of the Cross, pray for us!