Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph pioneers still after 350 years

By 
  • October 2, 2009
For Sr. Marilyn Larocque things that were true, essential and necessary 350 years ago are just as true, essential and necessary today.

Larocque and her religious community, the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, have been celebrating the 350th anniversary of their arrival in Canada this year, and discovering how much they are in sync with their founders.
“We’re still pioneers,” said Larocque. “Our founder Jerome (Le Royer de la Dauversiere) and our first sister (Venerable) Marie de la Ferre, they were pioneers.”

Back then the RHSJs pioneered by establishing hospitals and teaching in the first schools in New France. There are new needs today, and therefore the sisters are pioneering new ministries.
“More things have come up — the needs of women in crisis centres, detox ministry, food banks, parish ministry,” said Larocque. “Other ministries have come forth.”

A vocation to the RHSJs today is the same as it was 350 years ago, she said.

“We’re still responding to the needs of the sick, the poor and the most needy — unconditionally.”

But like most congregations of women in North America, aging sisters have not seen young replacements follow in their footsteps.

“God still calls,” said Larocque. “Youth are still searching. I think they need the time to really come in touch with what they’re searching for.”

When the RHSJs ran nursing schools and taught in elementary and high schools, they were in contact daily with young women. Their students could see the work of the order. A less institutional approach today has diminished that constant contact.

“Today that visibility is different,” said Larocque. “Even though we’re involved in different things, it’s not the same visibility.”

There are just under 300 RHSJs in France, Canada, the United States, Peru, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The younger sisters are in Peru, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The North American sisters have been helping their Latin American counterparts in support of vocation promotion.

“They are working now continually with the youth there,” she said.

In Canada vocations will probably remain a challenge.

“Some youth today need basic faith formation before we can even look at discernment for vocations in life,” said Larocque.

But Larocque is not despondent.

“I remain very hopeful. I believe that God still calls. We’re trying new and different ways to be with the young of today.”

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