Our Federation Story

Photo of the first Canadian Federation meeting, 1966

The Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in Canada in 1851. Now, over 160 years later, we are three Congregations joined together in a Federation, but this was not always so.

Our Beginnings

In 1650, in LePuy, France, Father Jean Pierre Médaille, a Jesuit priest, gathered together six women to form a community to respond to the needs of the poor.

From 1789-1794, during the French Revolution many of the Sisters were imprisoned, some even guillotined. Many escaped by taking refuge in their family homes.

Thirteen years later in 1807, Mother St. John Fontbonne, one of the Sisters who had been imprisoned, was requested by Cardinal Fesch, Archbishop of Lyon, to gather together a community of former religious in his diocese. Through Mother St. John and several other Sisters of St. Joseph, this new Congregation maintained continuity with the first community founded by Father Médaille.

The membership continued to grow and the Sisters quickly set up houses throughout France, then into Europe and the Americas.

Sisters in North America

In 1836 six Sisters of St. Joseph settled in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. They worked among native and black children, deaf children and new immigrants to the city.

A novitiate for the formation of new Sisters was established and although the days were challenging with a new language, harsh living conditions and financial need, the community quickly grew in number.

The Sisters were soon asked to minister in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.

Canadian Adventure

Responding to yet another invitation, four Sisters set out from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and arrived in Toronto in 1851. In a few short years, Congregations were established in Hamilton (1852), London (1868) and Peterborough (1890). Everywhere the Sisters went, they responded to the needs of the day: caring for orphans, teaching children, nursing the sick.

In 1921, twenty-seven Sisters from Peterborough formed the newly-established Pembroke Congregation to fill the need for Catholic teachers in the rural areas of the Ottawa Valley. Then in 1936, one hundred more Sisters of the Peterborough Congregation who were serving in Port Arthur and Fort William, present-day Thunder Bay, and in missions throughout Northeastern Ontario were formed into a separate Congregation for the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Canadian Federation

On September 20, 1966, the six separate Canadian Congregations: (Toronto, Hamilton, London, Peterborough, Pembroke and Sault Ste Marie) formed the Canadian Federation. This configuration changed in early 2013, when four of the six Canadian congregations (Hamilton, London, Peterborough and Pembroke) amalgamated and formed a new congregation – The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.   The three congregations (Toronto, Sault Ste Marie, and The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada) now form the Federation.

As a Federation the three Congregations are able to:

  • deepen the awareness of a shared identity and mission;
  • offer mutual support to each other;
  • work together on common ministries and areas of concern.

The common purpose of the Canadian Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph is:

  • to focus and empower our members
  • in the passionate living of our mission of active and inclusive love.

Federations of the Sisters of St. Joseph are found also in the United States and Italy.