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Founding Communities


The first Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada came to Toronto from Philadelphia, in the fall of 1851. By April 1852, three Sisters from this group went to Hamilton and were soon involved in teaching:  laying the foundation of the Catholic school system.  As well, the Sisters established the first hospital and home for the aged in Guelph to care for the needs of people who were sick, poor and destitute, later establishing hospitals in Kitchener, Hamilton and Brantford and Homes for the Aged in Dundas and Brantford.

The Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada (Hamilton) have been active in Hamilton Diocese for over 160 years.  Service to the ‘dear neighbour’ is at the core and is manifested in various ways.  Health care, education and social services in its broadest sense have all been undertaken by the Sisters and through the congregation over these past many years. Traditional ministries transitioned into new ways of serving the ‘dear neighbour’.  Sisters collaborated with First Nations people.  The Neighbour to Neighbour Program, St. Joseph’s Women’s Immigrant Centre and Hamilton Out of the Cold are but three more recent (25 years) local initiatives where the Sisters have been instrumental in the start-up.

Sisters in the Hamilton neighbourhood continue to serve people in need in various ways in various places.


On December 11, 1868, at the request of Bishop John Walsh, five Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto arrived in London, Ontario, Canada.  Mother Teresa Brennan, Sister Ignatia Campbell, Sister Ursula McGuire, Sister Francis O’Malley and Sister Appolonia Nolan were accompanied by Reverend Mother Antoinette McDonald and were welcomed by Bishop Walsh, Rev. J.M. Bruyere, V.G., and Rev. P. Egan, pastor of St. Peter’s Church. Awaiting the Sisters were sleighs that transported them from the train station to a temporary home on Kent Street.

In accordance with their mission in London, three Sisters began teaching at St. Peter’s School in January, 1869. After classes, they visited the sick, the poor and the imprisoned.  They were also mandated to open an orphanage in the future.  In order to accomplish these tasks, more Sisters and larger facilities were necessary.

On October 2, 1869, the Barker House at the corner of Richmond and College Street in North London was purchased and the Sisters moved there from Kent Street. The building was named Mount Hope, and it became the first Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of London eventually housing the elderly, orphans, Sisters and Novices.

On December 18, 1870, the Sisters of St. Joseph became an autonomous congregation in the London Diocese, independent of the Toronto congregation. Sister Ignatia Campbell was appointed Superior General, an office she held until 1902.  


Bishop Patrick Thomas Ryan, bishop of Pembroke from 1916 to 1937, had a dream that every child in his diocese would have access to a catholic education, no matter how small and remote the area might be.  He had succeeded in securing the services of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Peterborough for this purpose.  As early  as 1910, the Sisters had opened a school in Douglas followed by Killaloe in 1915 and Mount St. Patrick in 1916, all three being  small rural communities.          

Bishop Ryan wanted more!  He wanted his diocese to have its own community of Sisters of St. Joseph.

In a September 9th, 1920 letter to the Mother General of the Peterborough Congregation Bishop Ryan argued that diocesan independence was contemplated by the Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph and that he and Father Dowdall saw no reason why they should not look for “Home Rule “. 

In response to this letter, the Peterborough Congregation granted Bishop Ryan’s request. In addition to the fourteen Sisters who chose to stay in the diocese,   thirteen more Sisters were sent from Peterborough for a total of 27.  Bishop Ryan and Father Dowdall had secured for the Sisters a fully operative farm on the outskirts of Pembroke. The large farm house became our first Motherhouse.   

The first Chapter was held in Douglas August 20th, 1921 with Mother Vincent Carrol elected as our first General Superior.  She had been born in Toronto and had also pioneered the Toronto foundation. She was 66 years old. Five novices from the Pembroke Diocese were repatriated from Peterborough and entrusted to Mother Dorothy, the newly appointed Mistress of Novices.  

The General Superiors of our Congregation were elected from the ranks of our founding Sisters until 1945 when Mother Magdalen Donegan was elected.  She had entered the Congregation in September 1923. At the peak of our membership growth, we numbered approximately 190.

Our preferential option for the education, health care and spiritual needs of rural communities as well as for the needs of the poor, the orphans, the youth-at-risk, the frail and the elderly led us to take on ministries in a total of 45 localities in Canada and abroad.

In 1946, we opened our first hospital and Home for the Aged in Western Canada. In 1964, we were establishing a mission in Chincha Alta, Peru.  Two finally professed CSJ Peruvian Sisters from our Congregation now carry on the work begun by our first Sisters missioned to Peru fifty years ago.

We also continue to meet needs in the Pembroke Diocese and in Ottawa.  In 1989, we opened Stillpoint House of Prayer in Springtown, Ontario (Calabogie area), a place where persons of all faiths continue to find silence and sustenance for body and soul.

We are gifted with some 48 active Associates in Canada organized in eight small faith communities, and sixteen active Associates in Peru.  In Canada, some 23 no longer active Associates form the Supporters in Spirit and Prayer group.   


In 1890, Peterborough diocese stretched from the shores of Lake Ontario northward, and westward beyond the western end of Lake Superior by a hundred miles or more. Bishop R.A. O'Connor, Bishop of Peterborough, felt a need for a diocesan congregation which would devote its energies to the educational and health needs of his huge diocese. He discussed the matter with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, with the result that, in 1890, twenty sisters of the Toronto congregation formed a new congregation in the diocese of Peterborough.  Mother Austin Doran was elected General Superior.

The task facing the new congregation was monumental. It had been arranged that they would assume the Academy, a high school for girls in Lindsay, ON, and staff the newly opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough - as well as the existing houses in Cobourg and at head of Lake Superior. To further complicate the task, the new hospital was to care not only for the sick, but also for forty of Peterborough’s elderly poor who were at the time residents of the House of Providence in Toronto.

Fifteen new members joined the congregation during the first year, and the foundation prospered, although poverty weighed heavily. With growing numbers, a new residence on the outskirts of Peterborough, Mount St. Joseph, was opened in 1895. In the same year the new congregation began its teaching apostolate in the city of Peterborough. A House of Providence was established in 1900 to accommodate not only the elderly poor but orphans of the diocese.

The growing congregation led to the formation of two daughter congregations. In 1921, the 27 sisters in three mission houses located in the diocese of Pembroke were, at the request of Bishop Ryan, formed into a new congregation with the motherhouse in Pembroke. The year 1936 marked another milestone in our history as the bishop of Sault St. Marie announced the formation of a new congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph for his diocese. 120 Peterborough sisters became founding members of the new congregation.

Through the years we have served, primarily in education and health care, in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, and in Brazil. Our sisters have served in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and in Honduras, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Far East.

In spite of decreasing numbers, the closing of convents and the handing over of well-established institutions, we continue to serve in areas throughout Canada. In our response to changing times and our charism of reaching out to those in need, new ministries call us forth: we network with other groups who share our mission to the most needy, and offer congregational support to some of the most urgent needs of our society, including adequate shelter for the aged, the homeless, women in need and refugees. We are present on boards that struggle to provide adequate housing for the poor, and our sisters volunteer in parishes, health care facilities and organizations that respond to current needs. Fostering spiritual growth is the work of two of our houses in Ontario. We have sisters dedicated to raising awareness about ecology and earth literacy. In this time of transition, we endeavour to be faithful to the same charism that called our first sisters to risk all for the sake of love.

Mount St. Joseph, the building we were rooted in since 1895, had become much more than we currently needed.  After prayerful discernment and careful planning, a new Motherhouse, built to the latest environmental standards, was open in 2009 beside our historic house.

Adapted from "History of the Sisters of St. Joseph” by Sister M. Ursula (Harrington).


Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.