History of the Motherhouse

Relive Our History

Humble beginnings

It’s hard to believe that the building standing today started off as a humble log cabin occupied by the Sisters of Charity and their orphans in 1836.

In 1837, the cabin was home to a school, orphanage and the St. Joseph School for the Deaf.

The motherhouse continued to expand throughout the 1800s, weathering a catastrophic fire in 1858 that destroyed the log cabin and two buildings, while damaging two other buildings.

As our mission grew, so did our motherhouse. The motherhouse was built over a period of 60 years, from 1840 to 1899. Each new wing was built to serve the needs of the community as the sisters’ ministries grew.

  • St. Joseph’s Academy was founded in 1840 to meet the overwhelming need for education in America. The academy was the first wing of what was to become a 7-wing building.

  • By 1841, 79 day students, 12 boarders, nine deaf children and four orphans studied in the building and the reputation of the academy grew, welcoming more students.

  • In 1923, Fontbonne College (now Fontbonne University) began at the Carondelet Motherhouse, successfully expanding educational opportunities for women.

  • By 1883 the buildings had formed an enclosed courtyard on the site of the log cabin, and in 1891 the construction of all seven wings was complete, housing space for education and a history museum.

  • In 1899 the Holy Family Chapel was built. This sacred building brings together community of believers in prayer, song and celebration, and was the final wing to be built onto the motherhouse.

Restoration and Renovation

In 2000, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet began restoration and renovation of the historic motherhouse to continue the ministry of hospitality right where it all began. 

Today, the motherhouse is home to the St. Louis province administration offices, sister residents, outreach ministries, other visitors and a variety of events.

Amidst the work of the mission that is done here every day, the beautiful building reveals unique maple and black walnut parquet flooring, beautiful stained glass windows and historic treasures throughout.

Do you want view the intrinsic beauty that is the motherhouse? Our sister tour guides would love to show you around.