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Mission & Ministry
Come to the Waters
A History of the SSJs of Northwestern Pennsylvania by Leonie Shanley, SSJ and Mary Francis Becker, SSJ
Come to the Waters chronicles the story of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Citing the beginnings of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the 17th century in Le Puy, France moving into the 21st century, the Sisters tell their story. The Congregation’s mission of unity of neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God appears to be the motivating force which created ever-new ministries to answer the needs of the ‘dear neighbor’ during the past 150 years.
Acknowledging the geographic location of the Congregation on Lake Erie, the prologue offers the biblical theme of water as an initial reflection. Throughout the book, photos of waters illustrate the meditative opportunities mirroring the events through the centuries. The water photos were all taken by members of the Congregation, lending an authenticity to the reflections.
Quotes from the Sisters’ current Constitutions, along with excerpts from the original 17th century Constitutions, tie together the movement throughout the 150 years.
Come to the Waters documents 150 years of the ministries of the Sisters continually responding to contemporary needs.
To obtain a copy of Come to the Waters, contact Sharon Urban at 814/836-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania trace our history to 1650 France and a small group of women who were drawn together to dedicate themselves to union with God and works of salvation and sanctification. Sharing the call to move in humility and sincere charity toward ever greater love of God and to love of neighbor without distinction, these six women in Le-Puy-en-Velay, a village in France, came together under the leadership of Francoise Eyraud. Their determination to follow Christ more closely was recognized and encouraged by Jean-Pierre Medaille, SJ, a zealous missionary and an accomplished spiritual director. (Visit the Centre International St. Joseph in Le-Puy France.)
These young women performed all spiritual and corporal works of mercy possible for women including the care of orphans and the sick, attention to the needs of the poor and the care and education of young women. Combining contemplation and action, this association grew and spread throughout France until the terror of the French Revolution brought the confiscation of property, the dispersal of members, and even imprisonment and death. When order was restored, Cardinal Joseph Fesch called Jeanne Fontbonne to lead a new community of Sisters of Saint Joseph at Lyons, France. It was to this Mother St. John Fontbonne that Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis wrote asking for Sisters to teach the deaf and to work with the Indians. Six Sisters arrived at Carondelet, near St. Louis Missouri in 1836 to undertake this ministry. American foundations began.
The Congregation once again saw years of growth and expansion. Works of charity were everywhere calling to dedicated women. The response was generous.
Within the space of a few years Sister Agnes Spencer moved from Carondelet to Philadelphia, PA to assist at an orphanage; to Wheeling, WV to direct a hospital; to Canadaigua, NY, to establish a new foundation, and then to Buffalo where she organized St. Mary’s Institute for the Deaf.
On May 24, 1860, at the invitation of Bishop Joshua Young, Mother Agnes came to the Erie Diocese where she assumed the direction of St. Ann’s Academy for Girls at Corsica. Education became an important work of the Congregation and within twenty years there were more than two thousand children under the Sister of St. Joseph instruction. Next, the care of orphans and of the sick was undertaken, first in Meadville and then in Erie.
Throughout our establishment in the Erie Diocese, we have continued in the traditional works of education, health care and care of the needy. We joined the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a voluntary association of Congregations tracing common origins to seventeenth century France. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania have contributed to the work of the Federation through membership on research teams, the executive board and in various Federation programs.
As the Congregation moves into in to the future, we continue to undertake all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy possible for women. Experiencing God’s love and alert to the signs of the times, we respond through traditional and new ministries, undertaking whatever may best bring about unity.
From the Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
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