Brief History: The Sisters of St. Joseph
It all began in a little village of LePuy, France, more than 350 years ago. The founding Sisters formed a community of women who would love and serve their “dear neighbor”.
Touched by the misery they saw around them, small groups of women came together. They shared a common dream: to dedicate themselves to God, to live among the people, and to address the needs of the poor.
These women cared for the sick, the aged, orphans, and the imprisoned. They instructed young girls, guided devout women in their faith, and worked tirelessly to alleviate suffering. Under the guidance and with the encouragement of Jean Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest, the first groups of Sisters of Saint Joseph came into being.
In 1650, the group in Le Puy-en-Velay was formally recognized as a religious congregation by their bishop, Henri de Maupas. By the time of the French Revolution, small communities had spread throughout south-central France. The congregation opened religious life to women of all classes.
Caught in the political turmoil of the French Revolution, many communities of the congregation disbanded. Some Sisters were martyred at the guillotine; some were imprisoned; others returned to their homes or went into hiding.
Once the Revolution ended, sisters began to re-gather into communities to minister to a people torn by war. One such re-founding took place at the request of the Bishop of Lyon and under the leadership of Mother St. John Fontbonne. A large community flourished and expanded from that foundation to other parts of Europe, to the Americas and beyond.
In 1836, nearly two centuries after their founding in France, a small group of Sisters came to Carondolet, Missouri to begin a school for the deaf. From there, the Sisters moved to many parts of the United States and Canada. One of the original buildings at Mont Marie, Holyoke, circa 1950.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield was founded in 1883 following a request by the pastor of St. Patrick’s in Chicopee Falls. He needed help starting a parish school and so seven sisters from the New York Congregation moved to the Springfield area. The small community grew slowly but steadily while educating poor immigrant children in central and western Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
By the mid 1960’s, the ranks of the Springfield Congregation swelled to over one thousand women. The group had founded or staffed sixty schools and had established the Elms College.
Then following the Second Vatican Council, the Sisters restructured their community life. Many moved out of convents and into small houses and apartments in local towns and cities. Their ministries expanded as well. No longer limited to schools, the Sisters worked in prisons, parishes, homeless shelters and other social services.
In the mid 1970s, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Fall River merged with the Springfield Congregation. In 2001, Sisters of St. Joseph of Rutland, Vermont joined the community which also covers Worcester, the Berkshires, Rhode Island and even Louisiana and Uganda. Today, the Springfield Congregation of about 330 Sisters continues to serve the people of God through a variety of ministries.
The SSJ Springfield Congregation is part of a Federation of all the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States which includes over 7,000 members of 23 congregations. Visit their web site at: SSJ Federation