The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Diocese of Peterborough was incorporated on May 1, 1893 under chapter 172 of the Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1887.
In 1890, the Peterborough diocese stretched from the shores of Lake Ontario northward, and westward beyond the western end of Lake Superior by a hundred miles or more. Bishop R.A. O’Connor, Bishop of Peterborough, felt a need for a diocesan congregation which would devote its energies to the educational and health needs of his huge diocese. He discussed the matter with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, with the result that, in 1890, 20 sisters of the Toronto congregation formed a new congregation in the diocese of Peterborough. Mother Austin Doran was elected General Superior.
The task facing the new congregation was monumental. It had been arranged that they would assume the Academy, a high school for girls in Lindsay, Ontario, and staff the newly opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough, Ontario, as well as the existing houses in Cobourg, Ontario and at the head of Lake Superior. To further complicate the task, the new hospital was to care not only for the sick, but also for 40 of Peterborough’s elderly poor who were at the time residents of the House of Providence in Toronto.
Fifteen new members joined the congregation during the first year, and the foundation prospered, although poverty weighed heavily. With growing numbers, a new residence on the outskirts of Peterborough, Mount St. Joseph, was opened in 1895. In the same year, the new congregation began its teaching apostolate in the city of Peterborough. A House of Providence was established in 1900 to accommodate not only the elderly poor, but orphans of the diocese.
The growing congregation led to the formation of two daughter congregations. In 1921, the 27 sisters in three mission houses located in the diocese of Pembroke were, at the request of Bishop Ryan, formed into a new congregation with the Motherhouse in Pembroke. In 1936, the bishop of Sault Ste. Marie announced the formation of a new congregation for his diocese, and thus 120 Peterborough sisters became founding members of the new congregation.
Through the years, the Sisters have served, primarily in education and health care, in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. They have also served abroad in Brazil, Honduras, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Far East.
Mount St. Joseph, the building that served as the Motherhouse since 1895, had become much more than the Sisters currently needed. After prayerful discernment and careful planning, a new Motherhouse, built to the latest environmental standards, was opened in 2009 beside the historic former Motherhouse, which has been repurposed to serve the Peterborough community.
In spite of decreasing numbers, the closing of convents and the handing over of well-established institutions, the Sisters continue to serve in areas throughout Canada. In their response to changing times and their charism of reaching out to those in need, new ministries call the Sisters forth: they network with other groups who share their mission to the most needy, and offer congregational support to some of the most urgent needs of our society, including adequate shelter for the aged, the homeless, women in need and refugees. They are present on boards that struggle to provide adequate housing for the poor, and volunteer in parishes, health care facilities and organizations that respond to current needs. Fostering spiritual growth is the work of two houses in Ontario: St. Joseph’s Villa in Cobourg and the Upper Room Home of Prayer in Ottawa. Sisters are dedicated to raising awareness about ecology and earth literacy. In this time of transition, The Sisters endeavour to be faithful to the same charism that called the first Sisters to risk all for the sake of love.