In 1650 the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph was founded in the City of Puy, France, by a zealous missionary of the Society of Jesus, the Reverend John Paul Médaille. According to the Rules and Constitutions, the Sisters of Saint Joseph are instructed to devote themselves to all works of mercy and charity, by which the glory of God and the welfare of neighbor may be promoted.
As teaching is their chief duty in the sacred vineyard, they are exhorted to fit themselves especially for this great and most important work. A six months’ probation precedes the novice’s reception of the holy habit. Two years are devoted to study and religious training before the taking of the final vows, after which two years are spent under training in the novitiate.
Nearly a century and a half had passed, the Community had rapidly increased and extended into almost all the principal cities of France when,
during the Revolution in 1793, the Sisters’ convents and chapels were confiscated, their annals were destroyed and the religious were obliged to join Communities in other countries or return to their respective homes in the world. During this Reign of Terror, several Sisters of St. Joseph died for the faith.
After the Revolution, from 1793 to 1807, the Community was disbanded. August 15, 1807, Mother St. John Fontbonne refounded the Order. The first Sisters of St. Joseph that came to America established their mother-house at Carondolet, Missouri, in 1836; their rules and mode of life under general government, receiving the approbation of the Holy See in the year 1877. As the Pennsylvania Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph represented a diocesan Community, so also was the Congregation admitted from Philadelphia into Brooklyn in 1856.
On September 8, 1856, the Sisters of St. Joseph opened St. Mary’s Academy on Grand Street, Brooklyn, New York, and twenty little girls were registered as pupils. In 1860, at the request of the Rev. James O’Beirne, the diocesan novitiate and the boarding school were moved to Flushing, Long Island. Mother Mary Austin wisely directed and governed the Community for nine consecutive years, when, incapacitated by ill health, she resigned the charge of General Superior.
Mother Mary Baptista was Mother Mary Austin’s immediate and very worthy successor. In August, 1868, Mother Mary Teresa Mullen was elected General Superior, which office she retained during a period of 24 years, witnessing in her long administration a great increase in the Community and a remarkable extension of the work assigned the Sisters in the Brooklyn and other dioceses.
On August 15, 1892, Mother Mary Louis was elected General Superior. Having been identified, as a pupil, with the opening of the Academy, and connected as a music teacher with the mother-house during her entire religious life, she was in every respect qualified to succeed the honored superior with whom she had so many years been associated.
As the town of Flushing grew more and more populous, the surroundings of the convent became less and less desirable as a site for the novitiate and the boarding school for young ladies. In February 1896, through the kindness of the Bishop, the Right Rev. C.E. McDonnell, the Sisters were enabled to purchase a piece of property comprising 350 acres, formerly known as Pine Park, at Brentwood, New York. The Austral hotel and three fine cottages already graced the premises. The large brick structure later erected was the scene of very interesting activities held on the occasion of the opening of the Academy, June 11, the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1903.
The Golden Jubilee of the first foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the Brooklyn Diocese was celebrated August 25, 1906. The Brooklyn Community, now numbering more than 700 members, is represented in almost every parish of the diocese.
The large main building at present in course of erection at “Brentwood” will afford greater accommodations to the senior students at the institution. Mother-houses that have branched off from the Brooklyn Diocese are at Rutland, Vermont; Ebensburg, Pennsylvania; Boston, Chicopee Falls and North Adams, Massachusetts.
Elinor Tong Dehey, ed., Religious Orders of Women in the United States (Hammond, IN: W.B. Conkey Company, 1913), 116-120.