Sisters of St. Joseph, Le Puy, France
In 1650, Father Medaille traveled throughout the region and was confronted with the poverty, sickness and distressing situations of orphans and young girls. At the same time, he found that there were women thirsting for a commitment to serve God and the dear neighbor. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament the model was revealed to him. He was inspired by God to begin something new that would enable these women to commit their lives to God and serve the neighbor as contemplatives in action!
Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine, FL
The first eight Sisters of St. Joseph from Le Puy arrived in Florida in September 1866. In this turbulent period after the Civil War there were thousands of freed slaves without education and religion. The Sisters came to St. Augustine in answer to the challenging request of Bishop Augustin Verot to educate and evangelize.
Though the early French Sisters experienced many financial hardships, they used their lace making skills to help support themselves. They sold French lace to northern visitors and gave music and French lessons to several Northerners who resided in St. Augustine during the winter months.
Over 100 missions have been opened throughout the state of Florida beginning with the first class of African-American children in 1867. In 1898, with funds provided by St. Katharine Drexel, the Sisters of St. Joseph began teaching African-American students at St. Benedict the Moor School in Lincolnville. Three Sisters, in 1916, were arrested for teaching black students during a time when segregation was prominent. St. Benedict the Moor school remained open until 1968 when Florida schools were integrated.
These extraordinary and courageous women were called by God to share a common cause and respond to the impulse of the Spirit. The Sisters ministered in elementary and secondary schools, schools for children who were mentally and physically challenged, orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, homes for the aged and infirm, catechetical missions for the migrant populations, and hospitals for the sick. Much of the Florida Catholic school system is a product of the good works of the Sisters.