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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

170th anniversary of the first Canadian foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto.

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

Project Hope

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

2015

2015

Faith Alliance

Faith Alliance is established and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto as a collaboration of religious and other partners working to end human trafficking by raising awareness and inspiring action.

2013

Opening of 2 O’Connor Drive Residence

On March 12, 2013 the Sisters living at their Motherhouse on Bayview Avenue moved to a new ecologically sustainable building.

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. 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

Founded in 2000, Fontbonne Ministries 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

In 1998, Furniture Bank is founded by Sr. Anne Schenck 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, located in St. Michael's Hospital Annex, opened its doors to women at risk in Toronto (to 2005)

1989

Herron Place Refugee Centre

Herron Place Refugee Centre opened in Scarborough to provide interim housing and support for new refugees (to 1995).

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 (to 2000).

1985

Nazareth House

Nazareth House Inc., Toronto, was established by Sister Mary Carol Lemire to provide a supportive transitional home for young women and their infants (to 2016).

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

Beginning in 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. It continues to this day.

1982

1979

Via Veritas Vita

Via Veritas Vita, founded by Sister Virginia Nelson and assisted by Sister Mary Regis Nelson, was a home missions program inviting students and later adults to volunteer in the Canadian North. It closed in 1996.

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 merger, initiated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, was one of the first hospital mergers ever undertaken voluntarily in Canada and later served as a model for other hospital mergers across the province.

1980

1978

Matt Talbot House

Matt Talbot Houses, founded by Sister Anne Marie Carey, began to provide 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

St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, Oshawa, was opened in 1962. A new Oshawa Catholic High School was built in 1964 and then was renamed Msgr. Paul Dwyer Catholic High School in 1978.

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 T.C.D.S.B. in 2007.

1960

St. Joseph's Morrow Park High School

When the Motherhouse moved to Bayview Avenue, the Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Morrow Park High School at the new Bayview location.

1960

1949

St. Joseph's High School, Islington, Ontario

St. Joseph’s High School, Islington, was opened by the Sisters as a Catholic girls high school for the west end of the city.

1925

Our Lady of Mercy Hospital

Our Lady of Mercy Hospital for Incurables was opened on Sackville Street to care for patients from House of Providence. In 1940, the new Our Lady of Mercy Hospital was opened 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. Our Lady of Mercy Hospital merged with St. Joseph's Hospital in 1980 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 school of nursing for the new Canadians settling in the north end of Winnipeg.

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. In addition, the hospital became partially affiliated with the University of Toronto and has one of the largest teaching programs in community hospitals. It had the first intensive care unit in Toronto, the first paediatric unit outside of the Hospital for Sick Children, the first non-medical model Women's Health Centre and the first Out of the Cold program as part of a hospital. St. Joseph's merged with Our Lady of Mercy Hospital on April 1, 1980, creating St. Joseph's Health Centre.

1921

1916

Western Teaching Missions

Our Sisters responded to requests for teaching sisters for Prince Rupert, BC, in 1916 and for Vancouver, BC, in 1922. This was the beginning of many schools in the west staffed by our Sisters. [read more] At the time our Sisters went to Prince Rupert, it was a six-day journey from Toronto. Prince Rupert was a new town, the Terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and a harbour in northern British Columbia. In 1918, our Sisters everywhere assisted in nursing the sick during the terrible plague of influenza. In the west, they temporarily closed the schools and gave their attention to the ill. In answer to a distressing call from the Queen Charlotte Island logging camps, two of the Sisters from Prince Rupert accompanied Bishop Bunoz on a 17-hour rough sea voyage to Curnsheewa Inlet, where the Sisters nursed 200 men for two weeks.

1913

St. Joseph's General Hospital, Comox

The Sisters opened St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox, BC, their first western mission in 1913. In 1912, the head of the Comox Logging Company requested that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto establish a hospital in Comox to provide care for his employees and their families. In 1913, four Sisters opened the hospital in a small house. 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. Inpatient psychiatric treatment for the northern part of Vancouver Island and other specialized care were also provided. 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. From 1911-2006, St. Joseph’s College was a Catholic women’s college and residence on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

1900

Catholic Schools

By 1900, the majority of Toronto Catholic elementary schools were staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Christian Brothers.

1900

1892

St. Michael's Hospital

This downtown Toronto teaching hospital for the University of Toronto was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph. After the Sisters assisted with the Toronto diphtheria epidemic in 1890-1891, the city’s medical officer of health encouraged the congregation to open a general hospital.

1863

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

For nearly 100 years, the southwest corner of Bay and Wellesley Streets, served as the motherhouse for the Sisters and included the second location of St. Joseph’s Academy, a private day and boarding school for girls. In 1960, a new motherhouse was built on Bayview Avenue in North Toronto.

1863

1857

House of Providence

House of Providence on Power Street opened its doors and provided a place of welcome for all, particularly the most vulnerable of the society at the time. (You can learn more about our social services.) [read more] Upon first arrival, the Sisters began providing shelter and food for those who otherwise would not have those bare necessities of life. Residents included children, particularly orphans, widows, elderly people and those who were poor. Over time, as the needs of the residents increased, an infirmary was created. Although the House of Providence was a haven of hospitality, seldom did there seem to be enough space to welcome everyone who was in need.

1854

First Motherhouse and St. Joseph’s Academy, Toronto

In 1854, they 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 in a house 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, with two novices, established St. Mary’s Convent and Orphanage in Hamilton, the first mission from Toronto. 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 at 100 Nelson Street (now Jarvis). The city was filled with Irish immigrants who had fled the ravages of famine at home, and the Sisters attended to the needs of orphans, widows and people who were sick and dying. Learn More

1850

Bishop de Charbonnel

It was to this troubled scene that Bishop de Charbonnel came as Roman Catholic bishop in 1850. Bishop de Charbonnel lost no time in using his connections for the sake of his new flock. Being familiar with the Sisters of St. Joseph and their works in his native France, he requested their help in Toronto while visiting Philadelphia in 1850. At that time, Mother Delphine was superior of St. John’s Orphanage and their novitiate. 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. Many died on the voyage and countless children arrived orphaned. 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

On March 5, 1836, six Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in America at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis. Among the Sisters were two nieces of Mother St. John, Sisters Febronie and Delphine Fontbonne.

1836

1807

Lyons, France

At the request of the Bishop of Lyons, Mother St. John was able to refound the community in 1807.

1789

French Revolution

The French Revolution saw the dissolution of the communities, the confiscation of properties and the dispersal of the Sisters, several of whom were guillotined. Among the prisoners was Jeanne Marie (Mother St. John) Fontbonne, superior of the Monistrol community. She returned to her family in 1794 and, with a few companions, continued working among the poor for the next 13 years.

1789

1650

Early History

On October 15, 1650, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was officially approved as a religious congregation. The Sisters were 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.