Los Angeles County quickly moved on Wednesday, March 4, to explore taking over the Little Sisters of the Poor home in San Pedro.
It was announced on Feb. 18 that the Jeanne Jugan Residence, 2100 S. Western Ave., would no longer be overseen by the religious order of nuns that have been there for 41 years.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn brought a motion to her colleagues, who approved it at their regular meeting, instructing the county’s real estate division to “pursue negotiations to acquire the Little Sisters of the Poor location with the intent of preserving it as a home for low-income seniors.”
The motion requested a report back to the board on its progress in writing in seven days and then every 14 days thereafter.
The Rev. Mark Cregan, a priest and attorney representing the order, said no meetings had been held and that confidentiality agreements prevented him from disclosing whether there were other interested parties.
“I think the county would be a capable and compassionate operator,” Hahn said in a statement, “and would be able to continue the sisters’ mission of providing a safe and comfortable home for people who really have nowhere else to turn.”
But under the government umbrella, the home’s Roman Catholic leadership and identity with regular community prayer and other church offerings would probably not continue, as it has since its founding. The home also accommodates other religious traditions but is distinctly Catholic.
Several years ago, the Little Sisters found themselves at the center of a lawsuit challenging the Obamacare requirement that they provide cost-free contraceptives to staff employees as part of their insurance benefits package.
Members of the Little Sisters of the Poor remain on staff but there are fewer nuns there than there once were. There are now seven sisters who serve as part of a 100-member staff. The facility houses about 100 residents and there is always a waiting list.
Hahn’s motion noted that an existing housing and homelessness crisis makes retaining the facility for those in need important.
“This residence serves the elderly,” the motion reads, “and should be preserved as a place for our seniors.”
Cregan, who is based in New York, stressed last month that the home is not closing, but is part of a downsizing of the order’s 167 homes around the world. Twenty-three of them are in the U.S.
The goal, Cregan said at the time, is to find a buyer that is also “mission-driven” and will continue operating the home while allowing residents and staff to remain.
Some of the other homes, including in Ohio and Pennsylvania, have gone to other Catholic organizations, he said.
“We’re not (looking for) a ‘highest-and-best-use’ appraisal value,” Cregan said in February. More important, he said, is finding a partner that will carry on the mission.
Withdrawing from some of the homes will enable the religious order, which is now fewer in numbers and older in age, to dedicate more resources to other projects, a news release stated.
When news of the sale was abruptly announced last month, residents and staff were stunned. The Little Sisters have been a presence in Los Angeles for 115 years, moving the home from Boyle Heights to the San Pedro property, the site of a closed Catholic boys’ high school, in 1979.
It was a good fit for the port town, which has always had a large Roman Catholic population.
Jeanne Jugan, for whom the San Pedro home is named, began the Little Sisters of the Poor in France in 1839, when she opened her home to a woman who was elderly, blind and paralyzed. The order now is part of an international congregation of Roman Catholic women who serve the elderly poor in 30 countries. Operating on donations, the order, which peaked in World War II, reports directly to the Pope and not a particular parish, although members attend and are active in local Catholic churches where they serve.
The 5.22-acre San Pedro property includes a 150,000 square-foot main building with a smaller retreat house and outdoor grounds. Some upper stories have an ocean view.