In 1650, six women joined together in community under the patronage of St. Joseph in Le Puy, France, in what became the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph. They were neither educated nor wealthy, but worked to support themselves by making lace, a common trade in that region of France. Henry de Maupas, Bishop of Le Puy, and Jean-Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest, are the order’s founders. Devoted to the needs of ordinary people, the sisters lived uncloistered among the people and offered their lives in love and service 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 they were forced to disband during the political turmoil of the French Revolution in the 1790s.
Mother St. John Fontbonne, a heroic woman who narrowly escaped the guillotine, herself, rebuilt the order in Lyons, France, following the end of the Reign of Terror, and it was she who responded to the appeal from Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis for missionaries to teach poor and deaf children. Among the first six sisters who made the journey to Carondelet were two of her own nieces. The community established at Carondelet was the first for the sisters in North America and the cradle of the American congregation.
Two of the sisters began St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in 1837, still located in the St. Louis area. The roots those pilgrim sisters put down continue to grow today. In countless locations, the sisters minister in schools and universities, parishes, health care facilities, clinics, retreat houses, and neighborhood outreach centers.
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. Currently, there are twenty-two congregations represented in the United States Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The St. Louis Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet maintains the distinction of preserving the site of the original foundation in Carondelet. With the spread of the Sisters of St. Joseph throughout the United States, headquarters for the St. Louis Province remain to this day at the original site at 6400 Minnesota Avenue in the City of St. Louis, home to the first St. Joseph’s Academy. The original Academy building of 1841 is still in use as office and community space. Although the Academy relinquished its Carondelet location in 1925, the St. Louis Province continues to sponsor the school.
In concert with other units of the congregation, the sisters of the St. Louis Province work to form loving relationships with God, themselves, the community, the Church, society, and all creation through the ministries of prayer, direct service, consciousness-raising, and systemic change.
Visit the Province website at www.csjsl.org
for information about Province activities and tours of the motherhouse at Carondelet.