The Sisters of St. Joseph, also known as the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and abbreviated C.S.J., is a Roman Catholic religious congregation of women founded in Le Puy-en-Velay, France in 1650. This Congregation has approximately 14,000 members worldwide: about 7,000 in the United States; 2,000 in France; and are active in fifty other countries.
The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph began in 1650, with six women meeting in a small kitchen in Le Puy, France, motivated by a common desire to serve God and the poor in their community. These women, with the spiritual direction of a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Medaille, formed the first community of the Sisters of St. Joseph. (Some early accounts attribute the founding of the order to Father Medaille's younger brother, Jean-Paul Medaille S.J..)
Fr. Medaille envisioned a new kind of religious community in which a group of women who would profess simple vows, live in small groups, work to support themselves, and who would live and dress simply but in a manner appropriate to their circumstances. The original six sisters were Anna Brun, an orphan; Marguerite Burdier; war widow, Claudia Chastel; Anna Chraleyer; Anna Vey, age 15; and Francoise Eyraud, a hospital administrator, served as superior of the new community for 30 years. All the women made ribbon and lace that gave them some income to support themselves. In turn they taught others to make lace and ribbon.
The new Congregation enjoyed rapid growth, expanding into eighteen houses during the first decade. By the time of the French Revolution, almost 150 years later, the Sisters had spread to twelve dioceses in the southeast corner of France. The Congregation of Saint Joseph was disbanded during the French Revolution. In 1789, religious communities were forbidden by the state. The convents and chapels of the community were confiscated in 1793. The Sisters were forced to choose between returning to their families or leaving France to join communities in other countries. Some of the Sisters who remained became martyrs. Three in Dauphiné and two Haute-Loire were sent to the guillotine because they refused to take the Civil Oath. Others were imprisoned at St-Didier, Feurs and Clermont.