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Living Love: My Journey to the Birthplace of the Sisters of St. Joseph

October 15th is Founders Day for the Congregation of St. Joseph, the day that sisters, associates, and staff celebrate six women and one Jesuit priest coming together in 1650 France to begin a new community of women religious. These women would go out into the city and minister to the dear neighbor, looking to care for the needs of the people wherever they existed.

Founders Day is always an important day for the congregation, marked by service, prayer, and celebration. But this year, for me, Founders Day was especially powerful. Because in the days surrounding Founders Day, I was standing in the very place where it all began; Le Puy, France.

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The 14 pilgrims on our first day in Le Puy.

I, along with 14 other pilgrims, spent ten days retracing the footsteps of the early sisters, visiting many of the same places they had stood. The streets of Le Puy are still lined with the cobblestones used to create them hundreds of years ago. The buildings and rooms where our first sisters ministered to orphans, learned the needs of the people, and shared the state of their heart still stand.

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(Clockwise from left) The cobblestone streets of Le Puy, the building that housed the original orphanage our sisters ran, and the door that once was the entrance to our sisters home.

While the old city of Le Puy is still made up of the same buildings that stood in the 1600 and 1700’s, it is bustling with the life of today. Men, women and children still go about their daily lives amongst the history, some of them making a living similar to our first sisters.

In order to support themselves, the first sisters of St. Joseph in Le Puy were lace makers. Today, bobbin lace making is still one of the things Le Puy is known for, and we were thrilled to get to see a demonstration of how this lace is made by hand, in the same way our sisters would have made it over 300 years ago.

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A lace maker in Le Puy, using the traditional handmade lace technique.

For me, the portion of the pilgrimage that held the most meaning was our visit to”the kitchen.” During my time working for the sisters, I’ve heard a lot about the kitchen. Also known as “the hearth,” the kitchen is the last remaining portion of the original structure where our sisters were first founded. The kitchen was where these women would come together, share information about the needs they had seen in the city, share the state of their hearts, and work towards a better future for all of their dear neighbors.

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The kitchen in Le Puy

It was awe-inspiring for me to get to stand in this small room, where the Congregation’s roots took hold. But what was most inspirational to me was being surrounded by other people who are working to move the mission of the Congregation of St. Joseph forward.

Today the Congregation looks different then it did in 1650 France, and so did our group! Sisters, associates, staff, and partners in ministry all stood together in the kitchen, listening to the stories of the first sisters. And, while we have each come to the congregation in different ways, we are all doing our part to continue the legacy of six women who, along with a Jesuit priest, understood the need to make a difference in the world.

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Our group of pilgrims in the kitchen.

I’ll write more about my time in France in the coming months (once I am less jet lagged!) because there is so much left to share. But as I think about Founders Day,  and my trip to Le Puy, I am so grateful for the wonderful community of women and men who stand for love, justice and each neighbor in our world.

About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-WebElizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, and Harry Potter.

27 thoughts on “Living Love: My Journey to the Birthplace of the Sisters of St. Joseph

  1. Elizabeth, it was sooo wonderful to read your blog this morning! It brought back not only the power of my own LePuy experience, but the sacred moment of my final vows on Founders Day, 2005, and every Founders Day I have celebrated. Thanks so much for sharing your own experience as a lay partner in mission! I can’t wait for future installments!

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  2. Janet Frayer says:

    Elizabeth, you did a wonderful job capturing some of our pilgrimage experience. Yes, it was inspiring to share this journey with you and the others who attempt to live the charism of unifying love in their daily lives.

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  3. Marilyn Ledger says:

    Looking forward to reading more about Le Puy, France! The buildings’ details are so beautifu! I learned to speak French in high school and although my mother made fun of the nasal sound I have always loved that language.

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  4. Sallie Latkovich says:

    Oh, Dear Elizabeth! It is a thrill for me to hear others embracing the community, its charism and history that I love. Thanks for your fine blog.

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  5. Donna Whitson Brett says:

    I am grateful for my 8 years of education by St. Joseph sisters at St. Frances Cabrini and St. Joseph Academy in New Orleans. It was fascinating to read about their origins in Le Puy. How far they have come in their ministry!

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  6. Kate Theriot says:

    The experience was like none other. Thanks Elizabeth for being my “travel partner” and for putting into words this wonderful time together.

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  7. Pam Wing says:

    I could almost hear the embers crackling in the kitchen. How lovely to experience Le Puy on Founder’s Day. Thank you for sharing.

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