The French Foundation
- 1650 -
The congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was begun around the year 1650 in small communities established in the area of Le Puy, France by women of whom we know little more than their names, and by a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Medaille. Father Medaille had a unique idea about religious communities of women; different from others in his time. The place of sisters in the 17th century was usually in a cloistered convent, not out among the people. Father Medaille had a vision to go out into the city, divide up the neighborhoods, find out the needs and do your best to meet them, and find lay people who want to do good works with you.
The Sisters of St. Joseph began by helping the poor and sick in their homes, providing refuge for widows and orphans, teaching religious education and a trade to girls and young women, and shouldering the burden of social work in villages where there was often no one else to do it. As the Congregation spread throughout central France, the Sisters served in hospitals, schools and prisons, and even maintained a pharmacy. Response to needs characterized the service of these first Sisters of St. Joseph.
The French Revolution of 1789 radically affected the visible structures of religious congregations. Church property was confiscated and Sisters were forbidden to live in convents. The Sisters of St. Joseph were dispersed; some were imprisoned, some were guillotined, and others went into hiding.