November 22: Celebrating Mother St. John Fontbonne
Jeanne Marie Fontbonne was born in 1759 in the town of Bas-en-Basset, France. Her biography, Woman of Vision Compassion Unity, describes her as a woman of indescribable charm coupled with good sense and leadership. The Sisters of St. Joseph remember her as Mother St. John Fontbonne, the second foundress of their congregation.
Even before Jeanne was a Sister, she radiated a personal interest in everyone from family members and friends to casual acquaintances. After finishing her education, Jeanne told her parents that she intended to become a Sister of St. Joseph and devote her life to God and to caring for the sick and poor. Jeanne was 19. Her parents were reluctant, but eventually gave their blessing.
At age 26, Jeanne became the leader of the Sisters' community in Monistrol. Now known as Mother St. John, she led her community up to the time of the French Revolution, a dark time for the Sisters when many were imprisoned and religious houses were closed.
In 1793, Mother St. John was arrested and sentenced to death. Released mere hours before her planned execution, Mother St. John returned home. She cared for her parents until 1807, when the Archbishop of Lyon asked her to refound the Sisters.
She started again with a small community of Sisters. They resumed visiting and helping people who were sick, poor and vulnerable. She lived to see over 200 communities of Sisters of St. Joseph blossom throughout France. She also planted the seeds for communities of Sisters worldwide, sending two of her nieces to North America.
Throughout her life, Mother St. John experienced many setbacks and hardships. But she always trusted in God and the Sisters' mission of service to those in need. Each year, on November 22, the day of her death in 1843, the Sisters of St. Joseph celebrate Mother St. John Fontbonne's faith and perseverance.
Prepared by the CSJ Communications
and Archives Departments