At Mount Saint Mary’s University, we know well our Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs) who climbed the Santa Monica Mountains in 1925 to establish a Catholic college for women. Many of us are privileged to claim sisters as teachers, mentors, colleagues and friends; they show us daily how to love the dear neighbor and respond to the needs of the times. Our sisters come from a long history of courageous and inspiring women who began this work more than 365 years ago in Le Puy, France. There, in 1650, six women gathered to minister to their neighbors who were most in need. With the support of a Jesuit priest, Jean-Pierre Medaille, these women became one of the first apostolic movements of women religious, serving beyond the cloister walls and out in the city streets.
This past May, 17 members of the Mount community, led by President Ann McElaney-Johnson, made our own pilgrimage to these early beginnings. With her deep love of the charism and scholarship in French literature, President McElaney-Johnson guided our group of faculty, staff, trustees, alumnae, friends, spouses and sisters as we traveled together to take in the beauty of France and learn more about this rich tradition. Sr. Carol Brong, Sr. Theresa Kvale and Sr. Theresa Harpin continued to illuminate for us the CSJ history and spirituality as they shared their stories of ministry and community. As we journeyed through time, we formed our own community of pilgrims. We shared our stories of family, culture, faith and calling.
In Le Puy, we saw that the art of lacemaking is alive and well, just as it was in the 17th century, when the sisters taught this skill and livelihood to women in poverty. We stood inside the original kitchen, where our guide, Sr. Simone, told us the story of how the women gathered in the evenings to pray and reflect after serving in the neighborhoods all day. Standing in Martyrs’ Square, we remembered with sorrow and gratitude the Sisters of Saint Joseph who went to the guillotine in the early days of the French Revolution.
We visited the Centre International of St. Joseph, a collaborative effort of Sisters of St. Joseph from around the world to welcome pilgrims like us. We learned about not only the history of the sisters but their ongoing mission and efforts to serve around the globe. Sr. Joyce Murray of Canada and Sr. Eluiza de Andrade of Brazil accompanied us through the historic towns of St. Etienne, Monistrol and Bas-en-Basset, where Mother St. John Fontbonne lived, entered the community and re-founded the order in 1807 after the French Revolution.
In Lyon, a hushed awe fell over the group when we arrived at the gravesite of Mother St. John, a simple grave in the city cemetery. As we shared our reflections, the mission “that all may be one” had captured each of us in our own lives. We offered prayers of gratitude for the courage of Mother St. John to send the first sisters to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1836, the beginnings of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet in the United States.
Of course, we enjoyed all that France had to offer — delicious foods, beautiful historic churches and the finest museums. But as we celebrated our trip with a final meal in Annecy, we shared what this journey meant to us: a deepening of our bonds with one another and claiming our place with the Sisters of Saint Joseph to love the dear neighbor without distinction.
The CSJ Institute will sponsor another CSJ Heritage Tour for alumnae and friends of the Mount in May 2017. Registration is now open. Contact Shannon Green, director of the CSJ Institute, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 213-477-2712 for more information. The CSJ Institute is also active on Facebook.