“A Woman of Action”

Today marks the birth of Mother Delphine Fontbonne (1813-1856), foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Born in France, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at age nineteen. By the time she showed up, the community had become almost a family business. One of her sisters was a Sister, and so were two aunts and two great-aunts. Her brother, a priest, became a spiritual director for the Sisters. Her aunt, Mother Saint-Jean Fontbonne, who rebuilt the community in the wake of the French Revolution, was superior. (There are quite a few schools named for Mother Saint-Jean after around the country, including one in Brooklyn.) Sister Delphine was part of the group that started the community’s first American foundation in Carondolet in 1836. Fourteen years later she went to Philadelphia as novice mistress. (The Brentwood Josephites are an offshoot of the Philly foundation.) In 1851, she started the community’s first Canadian foundation in Toronto. Under her leadership the Sisters taught school, ran an orphanage, opened a novitiate, and founded the House of Providence, a home for the poor. During a typhus epidemic in Toronto, she caught the disease from one of her patients and died. Right to the end, as one biographer puts it, “Sister Delphine was a woman of action.”
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