Our History

History of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Beginnings

Three hundred sixty years ago in the hills circling the village of LePuy, France, the Spirit of God touched the hearts of a young priest and a group of women firing them with love for others and a vision of union with God and neighbor. This vision was to be achieved through prayer, service and reconciling love. The concept of a non-cloistered congregation including women of all classes and all backgrounds was unique in its time.

It was a vision that took root in the hearts of many. We do not know the names of all, but we honor those we know: Jean-Pierre Medaille, S.J., Francoise Eyraud, Clauda Chastal, Marguerite Burdier,  Anna Chaleyer, Anna Vey, and Anna Brun.

Small groups of these women spread throughout France where they earned a livelihood making lace, while devoting themselves to their goal of “dividing the city, seeking out its ills and curing them.” Finally, in 1650 in LePuy, the group was established as a religious foundation by Bishop de Maupas, the Bishop of LePuy.

Persecution

nuns_2The vitality and expansion of the Congregation continued until it was abruptly halted by the French Revolution. Convents were closed; Sisters were disbanded or were thrown into prison; some were even beheaded at the guillotine. In the aftermath of this chaos, it was thought that the Congregation had died.

Refounding

However, after the Revolution, the Sisters of St. Joseph were refounded by Mother St. John (Jeanne Fontbonne) who had narrowly escaped the guillotine herself. Once again the Congregation flourished. The new government called for universal education so the Sisters, once again meeting the needs of the times,  became teachers. Soon their numbers increased  and they were able to spread throughout the region.

Expansion

CorondeletIn 1836, a request came from the Bishop of Missouri for the Sisters to come to America to teach deaf children. Three Sisters were sent to Carondelet, Missouri to establish a foundation and a school. The first U.S. ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph was the education of deaf children.

The Congregation spread throughout the heartland of the United States and to the west and east coasts. Like their foremothers, these Sisters sought out the “needs of the city” and worked to alleviate them.  In 1856, at the request of the Bishop of Brooklyn, Mother Austin Kean came from Philadelphia to Brooklyn to found what is now the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York. She was accompanied by Sister Baptista Hanson and Sister Theodosia Hegeman from Buffalo.

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Brentwood Congregation
For more than 150 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood have been faithful to the original vision. They have served the people of Long Island from the docks of Red Hook in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to Long Island’s eastern shore. When the needs of people called, Sisters were sent to Appalachia, other parts of the United States, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil. They continue to respond to the needs of the times and actively promote the love of God and the “dear neighbor.” The goal of the Sisters of St. Joseph continues to be to foster love, unity and reconciliation among all people and with this blessed earth.
Today we continue to be fired by an energy rooted in prayer; advocate for the poor and oppressed…and encourage reverence for the earth and all God’s creation.
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Nourished by prayer, supported by community and energized by ministry, we are constantly addressing the needs of these times.