Beginnings: Historically, until the 17th century, religious life was open only to those who brought money, goods or land to the religious order they wished to join. These orders lived apart from the common people. However, in the early 1640s amid the social turmoil of wars and suffering our founders had a different vision.
Touched by the misery of the people, a small group of women came together in LePuy, in south-central France. They felt compelled to live and work among the common people, sharing their struggles and their hopes. Strengthened by the belief that they had a true calling from God, a group of six women sought the counsel of a young Jesuit priest, Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ. Under his guidance and encouragement, the first foundation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph came into being. The year was 1650. This new community, living in the city with the poor, served the needs of all and opened religious life to women of all classes.
Persecution: In 1789, the French Revolution brought about the persecution of the Catholic Church and also of religious orders of men and women in France. But for the grace of God, the Sisters of Saint Joseph might have disappeared, as many sisters went into hiding while others faced imprisonment and the guillotine for their beliefs.
Rebirth: At the end of the Revolution in 1807, the community flourished again under the leadership of Jeanne Fontbonne. More and more, generous and courageous women bonded together to serve the needs of their sisters and brothers. The order grew and branched out. One of these branches became the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry, founded in 1812 in the town of Chambéry in south-eastern France.
Arrival in the United States: The North American Province owes its beginning to a lay woman, Jane Sedgwick, of Stockbridge, MA — a convert to Catholicism. She desired to establish a Catholic school in Lee, MA. Since there weren't enough sisters in the United States to aid in the running of the school, Jane eventually went to Rome to appeal to Pope Leo XIII to send help. In 1885, five sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry arrived in Lee to open the school. The rest, as they say, is history. The foundation spread roots into Connecticut and eventually into other parts of the United States.
With a View to the World: Today, Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry respond to challenges that include: violence and abuse, oppression, conflict, hunger, homelessness, and alienation of families, to name a few.
Our ministries extend across the United States from coast to coast. The North American Province is one of 14 worldwide provinces and four regions that form an international Congregation of more than 1700 Sisters and lay CSJ Associates. The center of our Congregation is in Rome. Other Provinces and Regions are located in Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, India, Italy, Mozambique, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden and Tanzania.
Walking into the Future: We believe generous women today wish to share the vision of our early foundresses. Most likely, they are women like ourselves who desire to serve others, in God’s name. And no doubt, they are women of faith who possess great courage and a willingness to risk. We invite you to join us to make Jesus’ dream – "THAT ALL MAY BE ONE" – a living reality in our world.