The Sisters of St. Joseph: 370 Years of Making Bold Moves

This is a story of love that began in France many years ago. Back in 1650, France was reeling from war.
Poverty was overwhelming. The political system was chaotic.

Six women in LePuy, France knew they had to do something.  They divided the city to address the unmet needs they saw – especially the poor, struggling women living on the streets.  Other people saw the love in their work and joined them.  They formed a community –
the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The women made ribbon and lace to help support themselves.

In turn they taught poor women to support themselves, too.

framed piece of round lace
nun wearing a head covering

Right from the start, these women were do-ers! They worked diligently and grew in numbers for more than 100 years before going underground during the French Revolution. The Congregation was re-established in 1807 by Mother Saint John Fontbonne in Lyon, France. And as word of the Sisters’ good deeds grew, their community grew.

In 1834 the Bishop of St. Louis, Missouri, asked Mother St. John Fontbonne to send Sisters of St. Joseph to America and Bishop Cretin invited the Sisters of St. Joseph to join him in St. Paul. Four Sisters boarded a steamboat in 1851 and headed north on the Mississippi River for the Minnesota Territory.

The Sisters were given a small building on the bluffs of the Mississippi as their home. They opened the city’s first boarding school 8 days later. They named it St. Mary’s, later renaming it St. Joseph’s Academy. When the cholera epidemic hit St. Paul, the Sisters transformed their school into what became the first hospital in Minnesota, St. Joseph’s Hospital.

old church building
a group of nuns in habits stand on a staircase

Throughout the years, the Sisters of St. Joseph focused mainly on education and health care in the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota, and North Dakota. Sisters founded and staffed parish schools, high schools, and several hospitals.  In 1905 the Sisters founded the College of St. Catherine, now St. Catherine University.

After the Second Vatican Council, in the mid-1960s, the Sisters took a new look at their mission. They focused on their original purpose: going out into the city and addressing unmet needs. The time was right for Sisters to leave institutions such as schools and hospitals and start new programs that addressed poverty, homelessness, and social justice.

When the Sisters left the hospital business, they noticed that a lot of hard-working people didn’t have access to affordable health care. So, in 1992 they founded St. Mary’s Health Clinics to provide health care services to low income, uninsured individuals and families.

And twenty-five years ago, the Sisters of St. Joseph founded the Ministries Foundation to raise funds to support their ministries.

The Sisters have supported new immigrants since the late 1800s. Today’s immigrants who need to navigate in a new culture with its difficult language are served by Learning In Style School and the Children’s Room.

three people sit at a table studying

Women in need of safe housing are served at Sarah’s…an Oasis for Women.

Those committed to justice for all are served by the Justice Commission, which is rooted in the belief that justice is the work of all of us.

Young women who are searching for ways to make a difference in the world spend a year with us as St. Joseph Workers.

Spiritual seekers gather at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality to explore the spiritual dimensions of contemporary life and become agents of change in church and society.

In 1987, the Sisters of St. Joseph invited women and men to join them as Consociates. Today, more than 150 Consociates join the Sisters in their mission and work.

The Sisters of St. Joseph never intended to do this work alone. Many others join us in this great work – Consociates, St. Joseph Workers, Friends of St. Joseph, partners in ministry and mission, employees, volunteers, and donors.

women holding a parade banner that says Sisters of ST. Joseph of Carondelet

There is still much work to do and together we can continue what we started in 1650.

We had help then. We have help now.

But it isn’t about us.

It’s about You.