Religious congregations for women from all ages can attest to their noteworthy service and accomplishments. “All Things New,” by Sister Mary Williams (former provost and English professor at Mount St. Mary’s College), offers another unique profile for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the Los Angeles Province, where they are the largest congregation of women religious.
Founded in France in 1650, the community grew and in 1836 responded to the needs of the frontier in the U.S. Six Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in New Orleans and travelled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis at the invitation of Bishop Joseph Rosati. “The little group settled in Carondelet, a village near St. Louis, and set to work teaching and responding to the needs they saw around them.”
In 1870, just five years after the Civil War and assassination of President Lincoln, a bishop in the West urged the Sisters to come to Arizona as “there is a great deal of good to be done there.” Seven Sisters left the motherhouse in Missouri and traveled 36 exhausting days to reach Tucson. The trip included five days by rail to San Francisco, then ocean steamer to San Diego and an arduous trip through the desert and rough territory by covered wagon (only six could ride inside; one sat with the driver).
Sister Williams vividly describes the journey — encounters with desert heat, warring Indians, dangerous remote outposts and lack of food — and eventual reception of this first missionary group that forms the basis for today’s Los Angeles Province.
Those early years of teaching, learning new languages, harboring orphans and operating hospitals and clinics formed and expanded this discerning religious community. As the congregation grew, so did the requests from Indian missions, posts in California and the Northwest as far as Utah and Idaho. The stories and events are colorfully described by superiors and community members, augmented by photos and illustrations of historic buildings and sites.
In 1903 the province center moved to Los Angeles at St. Mary’s Academy on 21st and Grand. In 1911, having outgrown the site, they moved to Slauson and Crenshaw, “a wide open location with large vegetable gardens…and cattle grazing.”
Continual growth and expansion of the community culminated in the establishment of Mount St. Mary’s College in 1925. At the dedication, Bishop John Cantwell observed that “the inauguration of a collegiate department is the realization of the fondest hopes of the sisters who desired to place a capital stone upon the many educational structures that they so efficiently preside over in the diocese.”
The well-illustrated and expertly documented book attests to the writer’s statement in the foreword: “All through our history it has been a journey of faith, sometimes blind faith, to find and minister to the neighbor.”
Overall, this enticing history will appeal to anyone familiar with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and their various ministries. It offers a unique glimpse into the spiritual, educational and medical background of a group of women who understood the Gospel mandate to care for others and did so.
“The sisters,” writes Sister Williams, “lived together in community, prayed together and went out into the streets to do what the community was founded to do: love God and love neighbor with distinction.”
“All Things New. The Story of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the Los Angeles Province,” by Sister Mary Williams, CSJ (Good Ground Press, St. Paul, MN. 188 pp.).