Little Sisters of the Poor: HHS Mandate Fight Has Been Worth It


For sure, the Little Sisters of the Poor are nobody’s idea of a political action committee or a K Street lobbying firm. They’re a religious order founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan to care for the elderly, and they’ve become one of the largest women’s orders in the Church with over 2,300 members in 31 countries.

There are 300 Little Sisters of the Poor in the U.S., making it the order’s third largest country after France and Spain.

Given all that, the fact that the Little Sisters have found themselves for the last three years in the eye of one of America’s most ferocious political storms, becoming the face of resistance to the contraception mandates imposed by the Obama administration as part of health care reform, has been a bit of a stretch.

Two members of the order who spoke to Crux in August at the Knights of Columbus annual convention, being staged this year in Toronto, Canada, admitted that at various points, each has become weary of having to constantly field questions about the mandates dispute.

“There was a point where I was just weary of the whole thing,” said Sister Constance Veit, who’s been acting as the order’s spokesperson. “I wanted to ask, ‘God, why did you pick us?’” she said.

Yet both Veit and Sister Frances Elisabeth MacKay, who’s responsible for development for the sisters in Connecticut, said that getting involved in the mandates fight has also brought unexpected blessings.

“I get letters sometimes when they read an article and they’ll send a donation, saying, ‘We want to support you’,” MacKay said, who entered the order in 1952 and remains active. Veit said she hopes the order can “ride the wave” of publicity generated by the mandates case to generate new vocations to the order.

Veit also said she’s determined to use the platform afforded to the Sisters by the mandates controversy to raise awareness about the needs of the elderly, which is the order’s real charism.

The Little Sisters won a major victory in their case, formally known as Zubik v. Burwell, in May, when the Supreme Court vacated previous rulings and sent it back to lower courts, in a move widely seen as a signal that the court wants a compromise solution.

The sisters were on hand in Toronto to receive the Gaudium et Spes award, the highest honor bestowed by the Knights of Columbus and presented only in special circumstances. The first recipient was Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1992, who’s slated to be named a saint by Pope Francis in a Sept. 4 canonization ceremony.


The Little Sisters certainly aren’t the first unassuming Americans to be thrust into the spotlight during an important political struggle. Of course, for them this is not political, but a simple matter of faith that others have made political.

As someone who has been politically active for a long time, I can honestly say I didn’t see the most effective push-back against any part of Obamacare coming from the Little Sisters, or any religious order, and I’m a Catholic.

The optics of this fight are incredible: the big, bad government and all of its might dragging some sweet nuns through a protracted legal battle.

If you aren’t on the government’s side of all of this, they are, yes, quite the godsend.



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