Our Heritage

Our Story: Achieving all of which woman is capable

For more than 360 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph have been risk takers, responding to the needs of the times. Today, we live the legacy of the courageous and faithful women in our history whose Spirit-led vision continues to call us to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.

Father John Pierre Medaille

Our Founding

“They shall so live that their Congregation can deserve to be called the congregation of the great love of God.” Father Jean Pierre Medaille


  • Father Jean Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest in LePuy, France, gathered a group of prayerful women who, together, designed the pattern for our Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.


  • The sisters broke away from the traditional religious cloistered life with the mission to accomplish “all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which women are capable.”

Did you know?
In order to better serve everyone in their community, the sisters divided the city into different sections to explore the needs of all people including orphans, prisoners, the sick and the poor.

Mother St. John Fontbonne

Our Refounding

You are now very few but … you will be dispersed everywhere. Your number will be like the stars of heaven.The Abbe Piron to Mother St. John Fontbonne

1775 -1800

  • The congregation had grown one hundred fold and so had the hostility toward the church. With the French Revolution overhead, convents were suppressed and the sisters were forced to live as lay persons.
  • Many sisters were imprisoned and executed. Mother St. John Fontbonne, an original sister, narrowly escaped death when the day before her beheading, Robespierre fell from power and all prisoners were freed.


  • The bishop of Lyon, Cardinal Fesch, encouraged Mother St. John to restore the sisters to tend to post-Revolution needs.
  • The congregation was refounded when 12 women were formally received as Sisters of St. Joseph.

Did you know?
Because of Mother St. John’s love, courage and unifying leadership, the congregation maintains continuity with our original foundation.

Journey to the New World

…I trust and have confidence that they will bring into America the veritable and admirable spirit of the order, and that the grain of mustard seed is going to rest in St. Louis in the center of your protecting wings and will become a great tree …The Countess to Bishop Rosati


  • The New World was calling and they needed help. A generous benefactress, Countess de la Rochejaquelein, led the mission by reaching out to Bishop Rosati requesting help from the sisters.


  • Six young sisters set sail for New Orleans, enduring seven treacherous weeks at sea.
  • The sister took a steamer up the Mississippi river and reached St. Louis on March 25, 1836. The great missionary movement of the Sisters of St. Joseph had begun.

The sisters arrive at the cathedral in St. Louis in 1836.

American Start

…on the banks of the Mississippi, at the little village of Carondelet … those sisters undertook a transplanting in America, which has grown into a mighty tree.Sister Eucharista Galvin


  • The six sisters’ paths diverged. Three remained in St. Louis in a village named Carondelet, living humbly in a log cabin, while the other three found themselves in Cahokia, Illinois.

Did you know?
Although Carondelet was neither prosperous nor welcoming, the sisters persevered and found opportunities to serve taking in orphans and teaching locals.


  • After months of preparation and committing to the study of sign language, two more sisters arrived in Carondelet to teach the deaf. The journey took the sisters so long that those awaiting their arrival thought they had passed on.

  • The mission of founding St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf was realized.

Did you know?
We still continue this mission today. On the ground of the humble log cabin now sits the St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse, a building that over the years has housed two of our other St. Louis sponsored institutions — St. Joseph’s Academy and Fontbonne University.


  • By the 1860s, the Sisters of St. Joseph had an established American ministry that expanded into places such as Pennsylvania, New York, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Did you know?
Carondelet is the cradle of most Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States and has the only original Sisters of St. Joseph motherhouse still standing on its original property.