The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto (CSJ) was founded in 1648 in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, by six women and a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Médaille. From the beginning, the Sisters’ apostolic religious life included service to and with people who were sick, poor, at risk and vulnerable.
Although the Congregation spread rapidly to the surrounding towns, the French Revolution saw the dissolution of the communities, the confiscation of properties and the dispersal of the Sisters, several of whom were guillotined. Jeanne Fontbonne, known as Sister St. John, was imprisoned and almost lost her life. After her release, she was able to refound the community in 1807 at the local bishop's request. From the new headquarters in Lyons, the congregation flourished.
Ministry in North America
In 1836, Sisters went to St. Louis, Missouri, to open a teaching mission. In 1851, at the request of Bishop de Charbonnel, Sister Delphine Fontbonne and three other Sisters left Philadelphia for Toronto to run an overcrowded orphanage amid the typhus and cholera epidemic in Toronto.
From this beginning, the Sisters went on to establish ministries in education, social services, health care and foreign missions. Over the years, the Sisters set up facilities to meet newly recognized needs. In the 1970s, they founded two organizations for recovering alcoholics, now operating as St. Michael’s Homes. The 1980s and 1990s saw individual Sisters founding agencies such as Daily Bread Food Bank and Furniture Bank.
An independent congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto are linked to other Canadian Congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph through a federation.They continue to help people in many ways, nurturing community with the neighbour, especially with people who are homeless, alienated and poor and also with women at risk. They continue to maintain their long tradition of meeting unmet needs with life-giving ministries.