history

More than twenty-five years ago, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet founded the Ministries Foundation to raise funds to support their ministries. Through event planning, fundraising campaigns, relationships with donors, and partnerships with organizations within and beyond the Twin Cities, the Ministries Foundation tirelessly works to make sure the Sisters' ministries will consider long into the future. 

This is the story of how and why the Sisters of St. Joseph came to Minnesota and the amazing work they have continued to do since they traveled the Mississippi River to Saint Paul in 1851.

In 1650, France was reeling from war. Poverty was overwhelming. The political system was chaotic.

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Six women in LePuy, France knew they had to do something. They divided the city to address the unmet needs they saw – especially the poor, struggling women living on the streets.  Other people saw the love in their work and joined them.  They formed a community – the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Sisters of St. Joseph made ribbon and lace to help support themselves. In turn they taught poor women how to make lace and how to support themselves, too.

Right from the start, these women were do-ers! They worked diligently and grew in numbers for more than 100 years before going underground during the French Revolution. The Congregation was

re-established in 1807 by Mother Saint John Fontbonne in Lyon, France. As word of the Sisters’ good deeds grew, their community grew too.

In 1834 the Bishop of St. Louis, Missouri, asked Mother St. John Fontbonne to send Sisters of St. Joseph to America and Bishop Cretin invited the Sisters of St. Joseph to join him in St. Paul. Four Sisters boarded a steamboat in 1851 and headed north on the Mississippi River for the Minnesota Territory.

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The Sisters were given a small building on the bluffs of the Mississippi as their home. They opened the city’s first boarding school 8 days later. They named it St. Mary’s, later renaming it St. Joseph’s Academy. When the cholera epidemic hit St. Paul the Sisters transformed their school into what became the first hospital in Minnesota, St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Throughout the years, the Sisters of St. Joseph focused mainly on education and health care in the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota, and North Dakota. Sisters founded and staffed parish schools, high schools, and several hospitals. In 1905 the Sisters founded the College of St. Catherine, now St. Catherine University.

After the Second Vatican Council, in the mid-1960s, the Sisters took a new look at their mission. They focused on their original purpose: going out into the city and addressing unmet needs. The time was right for Sisters to leave institutions such as schools and hospitals and start new programs that addressed poverty, homelessness, and social justice. In 1987 the Sisters of St. Joseph knew they couldn't continue to do their work alone and invited women and men to join them as Consociates. Today more than 150 Consociates join the Sisters in their mission and work.

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When the Sisters left the hospital business they noticed that a lot of hard-working people didn’t have access to affordable health care. So in 1992 they founded St. Mary’s Health Clinics to provide health care services to low income, uninsured individuals and families.

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The Sisters have supported new immigrants since the late 1800s. Today’s immigrants who need to navigate a new culture and adapt to a different language are served by Learning In Style School

opened in 1994.

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Continuing to help where the need was greatest, the Sisters realized that there was not enough housing available for women needing to escape dangerous situations. In 1996 they converted an old convent into Sarah’s…an Oasis for Women, a safe community of women healing from trauma and looking toward brighter futures. 

Those committed to justice for all are served by the Justice Commission, which is rooted in the belief that justice is the work of all of us.

The St. Joseph Worker Program was started to empower young women searching for ways to make a difference in the world. Focused on leadership development, community living, justice, and spirituality, the St. Joseph Workers serve volunteer internships at local non-profits.

Spiritual seekers gather at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality to explore the spiritual dimensions of contemporary life and become agents of change in church and society.

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