Mother St. John Fontbonne
Jeanne Marie (1759–1843) was born in Bas-en-Basset, Haute Loire. She was the youngest child of Michel Fontbonne and Jeanne Theillère. At the age of 18, she and her older Sister, Marie, joined their aunt, Sister St. Francis, in making a new foundation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Monistrol. In 1785, Sister St. John was named superior of the Monistrol school and hospital.
However, the French Revolution forced many people in religious orders to flee for their lives. The two Sisters returned to their parental home in 1792. The following year, they were arrested and imprisoned. After months of misery, they were sentenced to be executed in July 1794. On the very eve of the fateful day, the tyrant, Robespierre, was himself assassinated and the prisoners were set free. Again, Sister St. John returned to her family where she and a few companions continued their good works among the poor for the next 13 years.
In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte took power and began to revive the Catholic Church in France. Here and there, scattered groups of religious women came together to restore religious communities or begin new ones. One such group, Les Filles Noire, had settled in two locations in St. Etienne in the diocese of Lyon. Cardinal Fesch arranged for Mother St. John to undertake their formation in the manner and spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1807, she began the work of refounding the congregation.