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Founders of the Srs. of St. Joseph

Founders of the Srs. of St. Joseph by Julie Lonneman

Artist Narrative:

The Congregation of St. Joseph traces its roots to the village of Lepuy, France, where, in 1650, six ordinary women, ranging in age from 15 to 46, formed a religious community to serve their neighbors in need. Their director, Jesuit missionary Jean Pierre Medaille, envisioned a new kind of religious community, and thus the sisters were without cloister or habit (revolutionary at the time), lived in small groups, and worked to support themselves. With their “feet in the street”, the sisters tirelessly devoted themselves to alleviating the spiritual and physical suffering that surrounded them.

“This group will be called the Congregation of St. Joseph, a cherished name which will remind the Sisters to assist and serve their dear neighbor with the same care, loving attention, charity, and cordiality that…St. Joseph had in serving [Mary]…and Jesus….”
—Fr. Jean Pierre Médaille, SJ

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In the mid 1600s, six ordinary women joined together in community under the patronage of St. Joseph in LePuy, France. They were neither educated nor wealthy, but worked to support themselves by making lace, a common trade in that region of France.

This community without cloister or habit and devoted to the needs of ordinary people continues today. The sisters live among the people and offer their lives in love and service to the dear neighbor without distinction. The Sisters of St. Joseph traces its origin to and follows the spirit of the foundation made by Jean Pierre Medialle, S.J. in France. The members of the community continue to dedicate themselves to the "practice of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which woman is capable and which will most benefit the dear neighbor."

This group of women grew in number and service until political turmoil during the French Revolution in the 1790s disbanded the women, suppressed the convents and forced the sisters to live as lay persons. Mother St. John Fontbonne, a heroic woman who narrowly escaped the guillotine, refounded the Sisters of St. Joseph at Lyon, France in 1807.

In 1836, a request came from Bishop Rosati in St. Louis, Missouri for sisters to teach the deaf. Eight women were chosen to travel across the ocean and make the first foundation in the United States. They arrived in Carondelet, Missouri, a small town outside St. Louis. This foundation was destined to become the cradle of the American congregation.

Two of the sisters began St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in 1837. This ministry continues to the present time. Their intense identification with the local church in France served the Sisters of St. Joseph well in putting down roots in the United States. The sisters began teaching local children and continue today in education at all levels. In countless locations the sisters minister in parishes, health care facilities, clinics, retreat houses and neighborhood outreach centers.

The congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph grew throughout the United States. Besides Missouri, province houses were established in New York, Minnesota and California. During the middle of the twentieth century, vice province houses were established in Hawaii, Japan, and Peru. At the present time there are twenty-two congregations represented in a United States Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

For over three centuries the Sisters of St. Joseph have continued to live in community, support one another in prayer and reach out to address the needs of all with generosity and love. The needs of the new millennium continue to call for right relationships with the Earth and one another in a spirit of reconciliation and unity.

—Excerpts from “History: The Sisters of St. Joseph”, by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph