The possibility of St. Joseph's Academy originated in Lyons, France, when Mother St. John Fontbonne, the Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph, responded to an appeal in the mid-1830s from Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis to send teachers to the mission territories of Carondelet and Cahokia. In particular, he requested sisters to teach deaf children. Immediately upon arrival, the sisters opened a convent school, followed by St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in 1837 and St. Joseph’s Academy in 1840.
Providing a French education for girls, for several years the Academy was known affectionately as Mother Celestine’s school, for its founder. In the spring of 1841, the Academy moved from log cabin lodgings to a three-story brick building that still stands today at the motherhouse, and over time, built a reputation of excellence that continues today. Although the Academy has moved twice since its humble beginnings in Carondelet, it maintains the identity and Core Values established those many years ago.
In the mid-1970s, then Principal Sr. Mary de Paul Berra coined the school motto “Not I, But We.” Derived from the call of Father Jean Pierre Medaille, co-founder of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph, to "serve the Dear Neighbor without distinction,” it continues to serve as a challenge and an affirmation to the members of the St. Joseph’s Academy that we are part of a community, here at school, and of a larger community. Each day, the St. Joe student is called to live out "Not I, But We" in all aspects of her life.
In the mid-1830s, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Lyons, France, led by Mother St. John Fontbonne, responded to a request for teachers from Joseph Rosati, bishop of St. Louis, that appeared in the Annales of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.
In 1836, six sisters made the arduous journey to the villages of Carondelet and Cahokia outside the fledgling city of St. Louis, half of whom established their little congregation on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River at what is still the motherhouse of the order today at 6400 Minnesota. Two more sisters, specially trained to teach deaf children, many of whom had lost their hearing to diphtheria and scarlet fever, arrived a year later.
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."
St. Joseph's Academy has many traditions that are important to our community and deeply rooted in our history. The spirit of these traditions dates back to that of those young pioneer sisters who were inspired by faith and a desire to serve where needed. In fact, the school’s tradition of “serving the Dear Neighbor without distinction” is one of its oldest. For decades it has been most dramatically witnessed in such programs as Mission Week and Senior Projects, but being of service has been part of the Academy’s core identity in every era in ways large and small. In this tradition, as in so many others, students and staff are joined in their efforts by parents and by alumnae, who treasure their own experience of Academy traditions.