The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is a congregation of women religious tracing origin to and follows the spirit of the foundation made in LePuy-Velay, France around 1650 by Jean Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest, with Francoise Eyraud and her five women companions, under the pastoral care of Henri de Maupas, Bishop of LePuy. Dedicated 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 (Primitive Documents), the community had a rapid growth until the time of the French Revolution when convents were suppressed and the Sisters were forced to live as lay persons. Mother St. John Fontbonne was one of these Sisters. She returned to her parental home and continued to minister to others as she had done before. Many Sisters were imprisoned and some guillotined, and Mother St. John herself was arrested and placed in the prison at St. Didier. However, martyrdom was not to be hers – the eve of the day scheduled for her execution saw the fall of Robespierre – July 27, 1794 – which meant the end of the Reign of Terror. So, released from prison, she and her companions returned again to her parent’s home. In 1807 Cardinal Fesch, Bishop of Lyons, asked her to reestablish the Sisters of St. Joseph in his diocese. So through Mother St. John the Congregation maintains continuity with the community founded by Father Medaille.
A combination of circumstances contributed to the first establishment of the Sisters of St. Joseph in America. Through her work with the Propagation of the Faith, Felicite’ Duras, a Countess, was greatly moved by a letter from Bishop Rosati, the first Bishop of St. Louis, asking for Sisters who would undertake instruction of the deaf. She offered to defray the expense of establishing a community of Sisters of St. Joseph in this diocese of St. Louis. She had a great love and admiration for Mother St. John Fontbonne and asked her to send the Sisters to America. The bishop accepted six Sisters to instruct the children, and in addition to these six, two others be included to teach the deaf.
So the first six Sisters, the oldest 30, the youngest 21, set sail from LeHavre, France January 17th, 1836 on the ship, the Natchez. They arrived in New Orleans March 5th after seven weeks at sea. Bishop Rosati had arranged for them to stay with the Ursuline Sisters and met with them the next day. (And he planned to travel north with them to St. Louis.)
The Sisters enjoyed the hospitality of the Ursulines for two weeks, learning much about life in America. The Sisters also told them to disguise their religious habit when going abroad and while traveling to St. Louis.
Click here for an illustrated history of the St. Paul Province through 1945.
Sister arrived in St. Paul on November 3, 1851 with the arrival of Mother St. John and Sister Philomene Vilaine, both from the original Lyons group, and two Americans, Sisters Francis Joseph Ivory and Scholastica Vasques.
The remarkable growth of the St. Paul Province began with the entrance of its first postulants, Ellen Ireland and her cousin Ellen Howard, the summer of 1858. By then, the pattern of response to need had been firmly set with the opening of St. Joseph Academy in St. Paul, Long Prairie Indian Mission, St. Anthony’s School in Minneapolis, and St. Joseph Hospital and Cathedral School in St. Paul. Orphans were taken care of in all these institutions.
Those fortunate enough to participate in the 150th celebration of the establishment of the St. Paul Province in 2001 will recall the dramatic reenactment of the Sisters’ arrival at the lower landing along the Mississippi River on a wintry day, the hardships of their early years, and their remarkable story in the Upper Midwest as they served as educators, nurses, administrators, artists, musicians and poets, cooks and gardeners, spiritual directors and social activists—all against a background of contemplative prayer.