The Sisters of St. Joseph continue to have a strong influence in Toronto through a number of ministries, including Fontbonne Ministries, the Furniture Bank, Project Hope and more. Register file photo

Sisters’ ministry lives in the present

By 
  • October 19, 2020

Entering their 170th year of caring for the people of Toronto, the Sisters of St. Joseph want to celebrate their history, of course. But celebrating that ministry has to be about much more than history, said the Sisters of St. Joseph communications director Lisa Tabachnick.

“Certainly, a history lesson never hurts,” said Tabachnick. “But we do want people to be aware of Fontbonne Ministries, the Furniture Bank, which is still running, the (Daily Bread) Food Bank, which is still running, Project Hope and Becoming Neighbours, which are geared towards refugees, still up and running.”

A year of social media posts and virtual events was not what the sisters originally had in mind for their 170th, which officially comes Oct. 7, 2021. COVID-19 spares no one’s plans, Tabachnick said.

“We had a whole year of celebrations planned. Some in person,” she said. “We’ve modified them, like everyone else, to try to adjust. .. If we are able to do things in person, then we will.”

There’s no denying that the CSJ’s in Toronto are not the institutional Catholic force they once were. In 1958 there were 800 Toronto sisters actively running three hospitals (St. Michael’s, St. Joseph’s and Providence) and teaching at St. Joseph Morrow Park and the St. Joseph Academy for Young Ladies on Wellesley Street, plus a number of other Toronto Catholic schools. They were mentoring young women at St. Joseph College on the campus of the University of Toronto and there were sisters spread out among Toronto parishes.

Today they’re down to 79 sisters, still true to their Ignatian roots. The art of discernment as taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola and Pope Francis has led the sisters to embrace the Blue Communities movement that seeks to preserve and improve water quality and the environment. They have also found ways of serving refugees through Project Hope and Becoming Neighbours. They’re focused on the future with Faith Connections, a young adult ministry that engages people beyond the institutional settings at universities.

“It’s not just a history lesson. The sisters are still active and their ministries are still active today,” said Tabachnick.

The CSJs came to Toronto at the invitation of Toronto’s bishop in 1851, Armand de Charbonnel.

An Archdiocese of Toronto Facebook post congratulating the sisters drew an enthusiastic response from Toronto Catholics.

“Had a wonderful experience with those nuns at St. Joseph‘s residence on Queen’s Park Cres. when I went to St. Mike’s,” wrote Barbara Carlton.

“Thank you Sisters of St. Joseph and may God bless you all,” wrote Mary Smith.

“These incredible women led the way, founding hospitals, schools and countless outreach ministries,” Archdiocese of Toronto communications director Neil MacCarthy wrote on Twitter.

“Our country is stronger because of them.”

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