Remembrance of Mother St. John Fontbonne
Refounder of the Sisters of St. Joseph
Jeanne Marie Fontbonne (1759–1843) was born in Bas-en-Basset, Haute Loire, France. When she was 18 year old, she entered a house of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The following year she received the religious habit. At the age of 26 she was chosen by the community to be their Superior and remained there until the French Revolution forced many people in religious orders to flee for their lives.
At the outbreak of the revolution she and her community had refused to sign the required Oath of Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Forced to disperse her community, she remained until the convent was taken and she was imprisoned at Saint-Didier for her resistance. After months of misery, she and her companions were sentenced to be executed. On the very eve of the day of execution, Robespierre was assassinated and the prisoners were set free. Sister St. John returned to her family where she and a few companions continued their good works among the poor.
Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799, and he began to revive the Catholic Church in France. By 1807, at the request of Cardinal Fesch, Archbishop of Lyon, Mother St. John was called to Saint-Étienne to assume responsibility for a group of twelve women known as Le Filles Noir. Under Mother St. John’s formation, these women became the first Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon. On April10, 1812 the congregation received Government authorization and in 1816 Mother St. John was appointed Superior General.
By the end of her leadership, she was responsible for establishing a number of new congregations in France and Italy as well as over 240 communities of the Lyon congregation. In 1836 at the request of Bishop Rosati of the St. Louis, Missouri, Diocese she sent six sisters to America. This was the foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph on this continent that expanded into numerous congregations throughout the United States and Canada.
We are grateful for the wonders that have been worked throughout history by women of faith and courage
Jeanne Fontbonne courageously responded to her moment in history.
What are we called to do in our time? How can we respond?
“…this valiant figure was a woman of great adaptability and flexibility, a woman of courage and daring, a woman bold in her undertaking, not because she was sure of her own strength, but because she relied on God’s loving Providence, and she placed her trust squarely there…She guided the sisters in seizing every opportunity to serve God and the dear neighbor. She asked of each of her sisters that same attentiveness born of intimate union with God and a loving compassionate service of the neighbor.”
From Prayer Remembering Mother St. John
In whatever part of the world we may be, we are never exiled…in Europe, as well as in America, God is everywhere witness of our works and struggles…My entire wish is that you be saints, and that your communities be…edifying. I implore God to pour down upon you God’s choicest blessings and assist you always with God’s grace.
Letter from Mother St. John to the Sisters in the United States
In your undertakings, see to it that God alone is their inspiration and their goal.
From Maxims of Perfection of the Sisters of St. Joseph
As Sisters of St. Joseph living in the 21st Century, we believe in the power, presence and love of God working through an evolving universe and in God’s self-communication through Jesus Christ. We see our charism of love of God and union with all neighbors as consistent within the context of our times and recommit ourselves to Jesus’ mission to bring about God’s reign. We seek to promote justice, be faithful to lives of non-violence and respond to the needs of women and other persons who are poor.
Direction Statement, Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, 2011
We believe that we create the future as we move with the Spirit in giving full expression to our giftedness as women in the Church sharing equally in its mission—in living a life that is simple, prayerful, courageous and compassionate—in proclaiming with prophetic voice the Gospel to all people—in strengthening our corporateness as women in community—in demonstrating our belief in the dignity of the human person and the call to secure this dignity for all women and men—in expressing our solidarity with the poor and oppressed, in faith and hope we accept the challenges these beliefs imply.
Vision Statement, Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood
As Sisters of St. Joseph, our charism calls us to love of God and neighbor without distinction. We believe that all is one and that our call is to an active inclusive love that seeks this union with God and the sacred community of life that includes all of creation – soil, water, plants, and animals. We see ourselves in union with this community that we hold as the neighbor through whom God continues to be revealed. We acknowledge our responsibility to balance our communal needs and the needs of Earth community now and into the future.
Land Ethic Statement of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood
In our time as well as in the past, there is involuntary and widespread displacement due to war, persecution, poverty, and climate change. In our current political climate, many who seek freedom on our shores are being denied the opportunity to create a meaningful future for themselves and their families. We believe that fundamental justice cannot be served without attending to their good as well as our own. Hoping to make a united and moral response to increased migration, we will take pastoral, educational, and legal measures to strengthen fundamental human flourishing.
Immigration Statement of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood