Meeting Our Ancestors: December


On December 8, 1854 the first foundation of the Congregation of Saint Joseph in New York State was made at Canandaigua, sometimes called “Sleeping Beauty.” In response to an appeal made by the right Reverend John Timon, Bishop of the newly erected See of Buffalo, a band of four sisters – Mother Agnes Spencer, Sister Frances Joseph Ivory, Sister Petronella Roscoe and Sister Theodosia Hageman – had been sent from Carondelet to make this new establishment. Early in January 1855, the sisters opened an academy and free school and took charge of the orphans. A novitiate was established and postulants were received into the community. The ceremony of profession took place in Saint Mary’s Church until 1858.

In 1857, Bishop Timon asked the community to open an institution for deaf-mutes in Buffalo, New York. Three sisters who had studied the most recent methods for this work in France, were sent from Carondelet. In 1865, the sisters addressed a petition to the New York Legislature asking that Le Couteulx Institute might be included among those to which the state annually made appropriation for the education of the deaf and dumb. A bill to that effect was passed on April 28, 1875. The foundation in Buffalo was under the care of the motherhouse in Canandaigua until 1861, when the administration was transferred to Buffalo.

In 1864, a band of sisters opened an orphanage in Rochester, New York, primarily to care for those children who had lost their fathers in the Civil War. In 1868 the Buffalo diocese was divided. The new Diocese of Rochester was erected under its first bishop, Right Reverend Bernard J. McQuaid, and the affiliation of the sisters with Buffalo was dissolved. The new bishop selected the community as the teaching congregation of his diocese and established their motherhouse at Rochester. [From Mother Saint John Fontbonne: A Biography by a Sister of Saint Joseph of Brentwood]

Sister Agnes Spencer (Mary) was born in Brindle, Lancashire, England on August 15, 1823. She was a border at St. Joseph’s Academy at Carondelet. She entered the Community in June of 1846. Her sister, Martha, [Sister Mary Augustine Spencer] entered two years later.

Sister Agnes was superior at St. John’s Orphanage in Philadelphia in 1851-53. She opened the hospital in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1853. She opened the School for the Deaf in Buffalo in 1856 and was superior at St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum in Dunkirk, New York, from 1858-1860. She went on to establish the Congregation of St. Joseph in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1860, where she died on March 22, 1882.

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