Friday, November 27, 2020
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1836: St. Louis, Missouri

On March 5, 1836, six Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in America at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis. Among the Sisters were two nieces of Mother St. John, Sisters Febronia and Delphine Fontbonne.

Sister Febronia was sent to Cahokia (across the river in Illinois) to teach the children of the French-Canadian settlers. Sister Delphine went to Carondelet, near St. Louis, where she was appointed superior despite being only 22-years-old. Their home, which also served as a school, was a two-room log cabin with an attic reached by an outside ladder. The Sisters found hardships aplenty. They had gone from the comforts of a former castle in Lyons to a straggling village at the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. They had to contend with a new language, cramped quarters, severe winters and poor Creole farmers whose children had little taste for education.  

In the following year, two more Sisters arrived to teach the deaf. The first American candidate to become a Sister was received in January 1838. She was a new addition to the log house. In 1844, a catastrophic flood forced the abandonment of the Cahokia mission. Several Sisters, including Mother Febronia, returned to France because of poor health. The others, however, continued courageously to care for those in need. A house was opened in the city of St. Louis in 1840 and from there new foundations were made in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota. Eventually, new novitiates, orphanages, hospitals and schools flourished all over the country.

In 1850, Sister Delphine Fontbonne was sent to Philadelphia as superior of St. John’s Orphanage and novice director. The following year, she came to Toronto with three companions. The city was filled with Irish immigrants who had fled the ravages of famine at home, and the Sisters attended to the needs of the orphans, widows and people who were sick and dying. 

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