Story and photos by Phillip Jordan
At some point, we all wonder where we came from and what our roots can tell us about who we are. At Mount Saint Mary’s University, we’re fortunate: We know our origin story.
It began 367 years ago in France’s Rhone Valley, in the village of Le Puy, a town built upon volcanic hillsides. There, in 1650, the first six Sisters of St. Joseph formed a revolutionary community of women who were not content to cloister themselves away from the world. Instead, they dedicated themselves to a new kind of religious life in which they responded to the needs of the world around them.
We know this philosophy well. It was the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs) who in 1925 founded Mount Saint Mary’s atop another hillside, this one in Southern California.
To help us reconnect with our heritage, and to pass the sisters’ charism down to new generations, the University’s CSJ Institute has created an ongoing series of Le Puy pilgrimages. This summer, the latest group of faculty, staff, alums, sisters and friends of the school set off to follow in our founders’ footsteps.
Led by President Ann McElaney-Johnson, travelers met sisters from around the world who serve in France today. They climbed to the top of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. And they stood in the stone-built kitchen where the sisters first met to plan their ministry.
The pilgrims finished their journey in Lyon at the grave of Mother St. John Fontbonne. It was she who regathered the sisters following an era of imprisonment and martyrdom during the French Revolution, and sent the first Sisters of St. Joseph to America in 1836 to Carondelet, Missouri. From there, the sisters fanned across the continent carrying a message of unifying love as they established hospitals; prison ministries; programs for women, children and the poor; and schools such as Mount Saint Mary’s.
“The seeds we’ve sown, at places like the Mount, are carrying our mission forward in ways we never imagined,” said Sr. Suzanne Jabro, founder of the Get on the Bus program and one of three CSJs on the trip. “Our mission started with us, but it will live on thanks to others.”