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Our Heritage

The Sisters of St. Joseph began in Le Puy, France in 1650 when Father Jean Pierre Médaille S.J. gathered six courageous women together to form a community who would offer their lives to minister to the neediest in their area. They were the first women religious to live and work among the people doing “any work of which women are capable” just as Father Médaille had envisioned.  These women cared for the sick, the aged, the orphans, and the imprisoned; they instructed young girls, guided devout women in their faith, and worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

The Congregation flourished and spread during the seventeenth century, but convents were suppressed during the French Revolution and the Sisters dispersed. Many were imprisoned and some died as martyrs. Mother St. John Fontbonne was imprisoned during this time, but was saved from the guillotine by the fall of Robespierre. During the French Revolution most communities of Sisters disbanded. However, in 1808, Mother St. John Fontbonne was requested to re-establish a branch of the Sisters at Lyons, France. In 1836, at the request of Bishop Rosati, the Sisters were first sent to North America to the diocese of St. Louis.

Among these missionaries was Mother Delphine Fontbonne, a niece of Mother St. John. Fifteen years later, she was sent to establish the first foundation of the Congregation in Toronto, Canada in 1851 and went on to establish the Hamilton Congregation (1852), the London Congregation (1868) and the Peterborough Congregation (1890). The Peterborough Congregation in turn founded Pembroke in 1921 and Sault Ste. Marie in 1936.

On November 22, 2012, a new chapter was opened in the long history of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Four of the six Canadian Congregations - Hamilton, London, Peterborough and Pembroke - joined together to become one new congregation, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.

Throughout our history, the basic desire of the first Sisters to reflect "a profound love of God and of neighbour without distinction" remains the touchstone of our identity as Sisters of St. Joseph.

In this 21st century, we the Sisters of St. Joseph can be found worldwide in over 54 countries. We continue to respond to needs in our culture and are aware that our neighbourhood is the whole world as well as the person next to us. This deepening sense has strengthened the desire in us to live in good relationship with our planet and all other life forms in creation. We, along with our Associates/Companions connect and collaborate with others to support healing of relationships at a personal, inter-personal and global level. We constantly strive to meet the emerging needs of our society, always working towards "becoming the change we seek." We hold that "where one of us is, all of us are."

Learn about our founding communities.

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Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.