1851: Mother Delphine Fontbonne
Marie Antoinette Fontbonne was born in Bas-en-Basset, France on Dec. 24, 1813. She was the eleventh child of Claude Fontbonne and Marie-Francoise Pleynet. Educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Marie-Antoinette became a Sister herself in 1832, taking the name Sister Delphine, following in the footsteps of her aunt, Mother St. John Fontbonne.
In 1836, Sister Delphine and five members of her community left France for America, responding to a plea from Bishop Rosati of St. Louis, Missouri. Sister Delphine was appointed superior of Carondelet (St. Louis), the congregation's first motherhouse in the States. In 1850, she was appointed superior of a novitiate and orphanage in Philadelphia.
In 1851, Toronto's Bishop de Charbonnel learned of the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia. He asked Bishop Kenrick of Philadelphia to release Mother Delphine to look after an orphanage in Toronto. As a result, Mother Delphine, Sisters Martha von Bunning, Alphonsus Margerum and Bernard Dinan arrived in Toronto on Oct. 7, 1851 to care for the orphans, the sick, the poor and the vulnerable.
As early as 1852, Mother Delphine, at the request of the diocese, sent Sister Martha von Bunning to found an orphanage in Hamilton. Two Sisters began teaching at St. Patrick's School in Toronto. In 1854, they built a new motherhouse near St. Paul's Church. The following year, at Bishop de Charbonnel's request, Mother Delphine began planning the House of Providence.
At the close of 1855, Toronto was struck by a typhus epidemic. Mother Delphine contracted the disease herself. She rose from her sickbed to respond to a distraught woman and attend the profession of three Sisters and the reception of three others. She died on Feb. 7, 1856, leaving behind a community of almost 50 members. In four years and four months, she had established an orphanage, schools, a motherhouse and novitiate, an academy and boarding school, and a house of refuge in the diocese.