RICHMOND — The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic congregation of religious women whose mission is to serve the elderly in nursing homes around the world, announced Wednesday that they would be withdrawing from the Richmond region and leaving St. Joseph’s Home in Henrico County.

The congregation is seeking to partner with another mission-driven organization to take over running the 96-bed home and has offered all of the residents the opportunity to transfer to another home operated by the sisters in another state. The other alternative is that the staff will help the residents find another home, said the Rev. Mark Cregan, general counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The withdrawal is one of seven across the country in the last six years due to a decrease in the number of women joining the religious order, said Sister Jeanne Mary, who works at St. Joseph’s Home.

“It’s not because we don’t love them [the residents],” Sister Jeanne Mary said. “It’s very sad to see such a mission which is so needed today is diminishing because there are very few to follow us.”

Their mission is to give housing and medical care to the elderly poor of every race and religion and serve them with a sense of dignity and compassion, according to the organization’s mission statement.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, which have about 30 locations across the U.S. and others in more than 30 countries, came to the Richmond area in 1874. They first had a location in downtown Richmond, moved to the Fan District in 1877 and ultimately moved to the current location in Henrico in 1976. The home is at 1503 Michaels Road, near Three Chopt Road and Forest Avenue.

The 11 sisters leaving St. Joseph’s don’t know yet where they will go, but they can be sent to any home run by the religious order in the world.

“For more than a century, the Little Sisters of the Poor have been faithful servants and true examples of Christ’s loving care and unwavering, tender devotion for the poor, sick, elderly and dying within our diocese,” Bishop Barry Knestout, who leads the Richmond Diocese, said in a news release. “I am deeply saddened to see them leave our region as their departure will leave a profound void within our community that is irreplaceable. Yet, I am immensely grateful for the decades of humble service, selfless work, great love and devotion they have provided to the most vulnerable in our community.”

The announcement, made at a meeting with the residents, their families, staff and volunteers on Wednesday, was met with surprise and sadness, Cregan said.

“They can’t imagine the home here without the Little Sisters being present,” he said.

As the sisters withdraw from homes, the organization will work on devoting more resources to other areas.

“As part of a strategic plan aimed at strengthening our ministry and the quality of our religious and community life, we Little Sisters have recognized the need to withdraw from a certain number of Homes in the United States, while at the same time dedicating our resources to much needed upgrades and reconstruction projects in others,” Mother Loraine Marie Clare, the regional head for the religious order, said in a news release.

“We’re grateful for [the community’s] support and love,” said Sister Jeanne Mary. 649-6601 Twitter: @bridgetbalch

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