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Our History

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto (CSJ) were founded in 1648 in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, by six women and a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Médaille. All the works of mercy were to be done on behalf of the dear neighbour. 

From the beginning, our religious life included service to and with people who were sick, poor and vulnerable.

Following the end of the French Revolution in 1807, Mother St. John Fontbonne responded to the call to establish a new religious community in the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph. By addressing the great social needs of the day, our congregation flourished from its central administration in Lyon. In 1836, six Sisters travelled from France to St. Louis, Missouri to teach poor and deaf children.
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St. Joseph’s Academy, ca. 1880
Among these first missionaries was Sister Delphine Fontbonne, the niece of Mother St. John. Sister Delphine, along with three other Sisters, would respond to the call to make the first foundation of our congregation in Canada.

On October 7, 1851, these four Sisters arrived in Toronto to care for orphans, the sick and poor of the city. From this beginning, we went on to establish ministries in education, social services, and health care. Over the years, we have continued to set up facilities to meet newly recognized needs.

Today, our ministries have evolved from larger institutions to forms of ministry that relate more closely to the “dear neighbour.”

2021

170th Anniversary

Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto celebrate their 170th anniversary as the first Canadian foundation of Sisters of St. Joseph.

2021

2017

Blue Community

As a member of the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada, the Toronto Sisters are part of the first group of religious communities in Canada to become a "Blue Community." They join a global movement for sustainable use of water. Learn More

2015

CSJ Project Hope

The congregation begins participation in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Project Hope refugee sponsorship program.

2015

2015

Collaborative Network to End Exploitation

Collaborative Network to End Exploitation is founded. Originally called the Faith Alliance to End Human Trafficking, the group's name was updated in 2018 to be more inclusive and focused. Learn More

2013

2 O’Connor Drive Residence, Toronto

In 2013, the Sisters living at their motherhouse on Bayview Avenue moved to a new ecologically sustainable building in East York.

2013

2012

Social Justice Office

Ministry of Social Justice, Peace and Care of Earth is supported with an office which identifies key concerns and seeks opportunities for collaboration in a faith-based way that includes education, advocacy, prayer and action.

2010

The Sisters of St. Joseph in Ministry, 2010

The Sisters of St. Joseph came to Toronto in 1851, to help those in need: people who were sick, poor, at-risk and vulnerable. Their ministries are carried out today, in rich and varied ways. This video is a sampling and a celebration of just some of their accomplishments and their spirit, as Sisters continue their good works into the 21st century and beyond.

© 2010 Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto

2010

2007

Ministry with Maturing Adults

Sister Mary Rose Marrin initiated a ministry with maturing adults as a means to address the pastoral needs of men and women in the second half of life (50+). It continues today under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Learn More

2005

Faith Connections

Faith Connections is established as a ministry with young adults, 18-39 years of age. The group offers opportunities for spiritual growth and community building.

2005

2003

Joint Apostolic Ministry

Sister Margaret Myatt, General Superior, formed a Joint Apostolic Ministry (JAM) with other Toronto religious congregations to assist newcomers to the city and established Becoming Neighbours. Photograph shows Sister Margare Myat with the first recipients of the Margaret Myatt Award, Sister Ellen Leonard and Rev. Jack Lynch, SJ. For more information, visit becomingneighbours.ca

2002

Pope John Paul II Visit to Toronto

Pope John Paul II resided at the Motherhouse in North York from July 27-29, 2002 to preside over the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto.

2002

2000

Fontbonne Ministries

Fontbonne Ministries, founded in 2000, is the response of the Sisters of St. Joseph to address current social needs. Named after the first superior, Mother Delphine Fontbonne, the ministries continue the Sisters’ tradition of nurturing community and assisting with the food, shelter, education and health care needs of their neighbours. Learn More

1998

The Furniture Bank, Toronto

Furniture Bank was founded by Sr. Anne Schenck in 1998 as a charitable organization to collect and distribute donated furniture and household furnishings to clients referred by registered agencies.

1998

1997

Women's Drop In

Women's Drop-In opened in St. Michael's Hospital Annex as a daytime hospitality centre for women at risk. Photograph shows Sisters on staff celebrating its 3rd year anniversary. Drop In closed in 2005.

1989

Herron Place Refugee Centre

Herron Place Refugee Centre opened in Scarborough to provide interim housing and support for new refugees (to 1995). Sisters Anne Schenck and Mary Macoretta were directors of the refugee centre.

1989

1986

St. Joseph's Centre, Morrow Park

St. Joseph's Centre, located at Morrow Park, St. Joseph's Motherhouse, opened to offer retreats and adult formation education in the Archdiocese of Toronto (to 2000). Photograph depicts first staff at St. Joseph's Centre (ca. 1987)

1985

Nazareth House

Nazareth House, Toronto, was established by Sister Mary Carol Lemire to provide a supportive transitional home for young women and their infants (to 2016). Photograph shows Sister June Dwyer with residents.

1985

1982

Daily Bread Food Bank

The Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank was founded by Sister Marie Tremblay and others to serve as a clearing house to distribute food to various small GTA community based food banks. The Daily Bread Food Bank continues today, supporting approximately 170 agencies in running different kinds of food relief programs.

1982

CSJ Associates Program

Since 1982, the CSJ Associates Program welcomes women and men who wished to share in the mission and spirit of the Sisters through a program of shared prayer, faith and service. Photograph taken at the 2019 annual retreat.

1982

1980

St. Joseph's Health Centre, Toronto

Changes in the delivery of health care and business trends resulted in the Congregation’s 1980 merger of St. Joseph's Hospital and Our Lady of Mercy to form St. Joseph's Health Centre. The Sisters of St. Joseph initiated one of the first hospital mergers ever undertaken voluntarily in Canada and it later served as a model for other hospital mergers across Ontario.

1979

Via Veritas Vita

Via Veritas Vita (The Way Mission Program) was a home missions program established in collaboration with the Catholic Church Extension Society (Catholic Missions) and the Toronto Archdiocese (to 1996).

1979

1978

Matt Talbot House

Matt Talbot Houses, founded by Sister Anne Marie Carey, provided a long-term, stable, and sometimes permanent home for men who require a sober, supportive community. Initially, the Sisters of St. Joseph funded the operation of Matt Talbot Houses. Today, Matt Talbot Houses is operated by St. Michael's Homes.

1976

New Beginnings

New Beginnings, created by Sister Jean De Luca, offered a program of sharing, healing and reflection for widowed, separated or divorced Catholics. Today, it is run by Catholic Family Services, Archdiocese of Toronto.

1976

1974

St. Michael's Homes

St. Michael’s Halfway Homes Inc. (today St. Michael’s Homes) was established as a rehabilitation residence for individuals living with the challenges associated with addiction.

1970

Parish Life

By the 1970s, Sisters were participating actively in the life of the parish, building community with parish priests and their parishioners through outreach programs, religious education, visits and other activities.

1970

1968

Missions Near and Far

The Sisters had a mission in Guatemala from 1968-1981. Some Sisters also served in Nicaragua and Haiti and most recently in Honduras. Home missions were established in the early twentieth century first in British Columbia, Manitoba and then in Saskatchewan.

1962

St. Joseph's Catholic High School, Oshawa, Ontario

Oshawa's St. Joseph’s Catholic High School opened in 1962. A school was built in 1964 and renamed Oshawa Catholic High School; it was later renamed Msgr. Paul Dwyer Catholic High School in 1978. Photograph taken at the 1993 high school reunion with former Sister teachers and staff.

1962

1961

St. Joseph's College School

A new St. Joseph’s College School (established in 1854 as St. Joseph’s Academy), was opened at 74 Wellesley Street West, following the move of the Motherhouse to Bayview Avenue. The school property was sold to the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2007.

1960

St. Joseph's Morrow Park High School

The new St. Joseph's Motherhouse in Willowdale included a new girls' Catholic high school in its building design.

1960

1949

St. Joseph's High School, Islington, Ontario

St. Joseph’s High School, Islington, was opened by the Sisters as a girls' high school for the west end of the city. Photograph depicts the 1956 student council with Sister Mary Bernita Young.

1925

Our Lady of Mercy Hospital

Our Lady of Mercy Hospital for Incurables opened on Sackville Street to care for patients from House of Providence. In 1940, a new Our Lady of Mercy Hospital was built on Sunnyside Avenue adjacent to St. Joseph's Hospital. Over the years, patients were admitted with more complex medical and nursing needs requiring a greater focus on activation and rehabilitation. In 1980, it merged with St. Joseph's Hospital to create St. Joseph's Health Centre.

1925

1923

St. Joseph's Hospital, Winnipeg, Manitoba

In response to an appeal from the Archbishop of Winnipeg, the Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Hospital and a School of Nursing in the north end of Winnipeg. Photograph depicts first graduates from the nursing school in 1923.

1921

St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph’s Hospital, Toronto, was founded by the Sisters in 1921 in response to the need for a general hospital to serve the west end of Toronto. Under the Sisters' administration, the hospital expanded to include a full range of primary and secondary health services as well as some tertiary services. St. Joseph's merged with Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in 1980 to create St. Joseph's Health Centre.

1921

1916

Western Teaching Missions

The first teaching mission in British Columbia was first opened in Prince Rupert in 1916, followed by for Vancouver, BC, in 1922. This was the beginning of many schools in the west staffed by our Sisters.

1913

St. Joseph's General Hospital, Comox

In 1913, the Sisters established their first western mission with the opening of St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox, BC. Over the years, as the population expanded and the needs grew, so did the hospital. St. Joseph's General Hospital provided care for the people in the surrounding area as well as the Comox Valley. In 1989, the hospital was transferred to the Diocese of Victoria and the Sisters withdrew from this ministry in 1992.

1913

1911

St. Joseph's College, Toronto

In the years leading up to 1911, Sisters began preparing female students for university exams. For 95 years (1911-2006), the Sisters were dedicated to providing post-secondary education and residence for women through St. Joseph’s College, part of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

1900

Catholic Schools

By 1900, the majority of Toronto Catholic elementary schools were staffed by members of religious congregations, with the Sisters of St. Joseph as a major influence.

1900

1892

St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael's Hospital was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1892 at the persistent request of the city's medical officer of health. During Toronto's diphtheria epidemic in 1891, Sisters volunteered to care for patients at the Isolation hospital and received the admiration and respect of their patients and medical collegues.

1863

St. Joseph’s Motherhouse, 89 Wellesley Street West, Toronto

In 1863, a new St. Joseph's Motherhouse was built on St. Alban Street (Wellesley Street West) and it served for almost 100 years as the main convent, novitiate and private school for the congregation. The property was sold to the Ontario Government and a new motherhouse was built in Willowdale in 1960.

1863

1857

House of Providence

House of Providence opened its doors on Power Street to provide a place of welcome for all, particularly the most vulnerable of the society at the time. Residents included orphans, widows, elderly people and those who were poor and homeless.

1854

First Motherhouse and St. Joseph’s Academy, Toronto

In 1854, the Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Academy, a private day and boarding school for girls in their first motherhouse on Power Street. St. Joseph’s Academy offered primary and high school studies. Later known as St. Joseph’s College School and now located on Wellesley Street West, it built a long tradition of educating young women by focusing on their intellectual, physical, social and creative abilities in a Catholic, faith-filled environment.

1854

1852

Education Beginnings

In 1852, just one year after arriving in Toronto, Sister Alphonsus Margerum opened St. Patrick's School on Queen Street, thus beginning the Sisters’ education ministry in Canada. The Sisters of St. Joseph taught in elementary and secondary schools throughout Ontario, including Toronto, St. Catharines, Barrie, Colgan and Oshawa, and in Canada's west, through British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

1852

Hamilton Mission

Six months after their arrival to Toronto, Mother Martha von Bunning and two novices, established St. Mary’s Convent and Orphanage in Hamilton, their first mission outside of the city. Other Sisters of St. Joseph Congregations were founded from Toronto missions, first in Hamilton (1852), London (1868) and then Port Arthur (1881). Learn More

1852

1851

Arrival in Toronto

On October 7, 1851, Mother Delphine Fontbonne and three other Sisters arrived in Toronto. They took charge of an already established orphanage on Nelson Street (Lower Jarvis) and cared for the orphans, the sick, the poor and vulnerable. Learn More

1850

Bishop de Charbonnel

While visiting Philadelphia in 1851, Toronto Catholic Bishop Armand de Charbonnel learned of the good works carried out by the Sisters of St. Joseph and Mother Delphine's role as superior of the orphanage while visiting Philadelphia in 1851. With connections to Lyon and the Fonbonne family, de Charbonnel asked that Mother Delphine be transferred to Toronto and establish a mission in Canada. The Superiors in St. Louis agreed to this request. Learn More

1850

1847

Toronto's Famine Irish

Thirty thousand "famine Irish" flooded into Toronto in the summer of 1847. Typhus had broken out on the ships carrying them to the New World. As the disease spread, fever sheds were set up on the original grounds of Toronto General Hospital to care for the new arrivals. Many who tended to the sick fell victim to typhus themselves, including the hospital superintendent and the Catholic bishop, Michael Power.

1836

Arrival in North America

In 1836, six Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in America at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati, bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis, Missouri to establish a mission to teach Indigenous and poor settler children. Among these first missionaries were two nieces of Mother St. John, Sisters Febronie and Delphine Fontbonne.

1836

1807

Lyon, France

Following the end of the French Revolution, Mother St. John Fontbonne responded to the call to establish a new religious community in the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph. By addressing the great social needs of the day, the congregation flourished from its central administration in Lyon, France.

1789

French Revolution

The start of the French Revolution in 1789 saw convents suppressed, goods confiscated and the Sisters dispersed. Many were imprisoned and some were guillotined. Mother St. John Fontbonne, superior of the Monistrol community was imprisoned but then able to return to her family in 1794. She and other sisters continued to work among the poor for the next 13 years.

1789

1650

Early French Roots

Founded in 1648 in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, by six women and a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Médaille, the Sisters’ apostolic religious life included service to and with people who were sick, poor, at risk and vulnerable. During the next 150 years, the congregation grew and spread throughout the neighbouring dioceses.
Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto © 2021