Graced Through the Years
The Sisters of St. Joseph was formed by Father Jean Pierre Medaille, S.J., in1650 when he called six women to form a religious community in the village of LePuy, France. They lived communally in union with God, each other and their neighbors, ministering to those who suffered at the fringes of life: the poor, the homeless, the orphans, the sick and the dying.
The congregation quickly grew in number and purpose as they began instructing people in Christian doctrine and establishing confraternities of mercy, which incorporated married women into their communities.
When the French Revolution broke out in the late 1700s, however, five of the Sisters were executed by revolutionaries and the congregation disbanded. The dispersed members reorganized after the revolution under Sister St. John Fontbonne in Lyon, France. The congregation flourished and the Sisters worked in the fields of education and health care in the French bureaucracy.
The New World
In 1836, six Sisters were sent from Lyon to St. Louis, Missouri, where they established a school for the deaf in what was then frontier territory. The Sisters quickly branched out around the United States and Canada. It was from the Rochester, New York, branch that the Sisters came to Kansas.
The Kansas Connection
In 1883, Mother Stanislaus Leary, former superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, New York, moved to the diocese of Bishop Louis Fink of Leavenworth in Kansas. They set up a school in Newton, Kan., and a year later came to Concordia to build a convent and academy, which became the Motherhouse for the new Sisters of St. Joseph community.
As towns sprang up throughout the frontier, the Sisters of St. Joseph followed, staffing schools, hospitals, orphanages and homes for the elderly.
The Century of Change
During the first half of the 20th century, the congregation enjoyed its greatest period of expansion as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia were called to many new opportunities. The establishment of the mission in Teresina, Brazil, was among those opportunities.
This era of growth was followed in the 1960s by a period of reassessment and renewal in the Catholic Church, ushered in by Vatican II. The challenge, of the Second Vatican Council, to all religious congregations was to return to their original spiritual heritage and to an intense living of the Gospel in the contemporary world.
For the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, this brought an awareness of their distinctive charism as an active apostolic religious community. Faithfulness to this charism required them to be women steeped in the spiritual life with an authentic sense of self, willing to serve the “neighbor” wherever God might call.
The Present and Future
As the needs of the late 20th century changed, so did the ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the first decades of the 21st century, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia are drawn to missions of mercy, social justice and human rights, working for change in the world wherever cries for love, help and mercy may beckon.
Working alongside us in these ministries are a multitude of volunteers and CSJ Associates, Christian men and women who share our call to serve those who need us most.
Today (as of August 2012) there are about 135 Sisters of St. Joseph serving in 10 of the United States and in Brazil.
If you’d like to help support any of the sisters’ ministries, you can make a donation through a secure server with PayPal, simply by clicking on the Donate button:
For a different kind of story about the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, here’s a personal reflection from Father Jim Hoover: A priest remembers the sisters who taught him