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Sisters of St. Joseph celebrate 140 years of ministry in Boston

Sisters of St. Joseph join in the closing procession following an Oct. 6 Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert P. Deeley at St. Agatha Parish in Milton to celebrate the 140th anniversary of their founding in Boston. Pilot photo/George Martell, Pilot Media Group

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MILTON -- The Sisters of St. Joseph came to the Archdiocese of Boston 140 years ago to teach, which continues to be a critical part of their mission today. In 1873, four sisters traveled from Brooklyn, N.Y. at the request of Father Magennis of Jamaica Plain who knew of their reputation as good teachers. Since that time, they have staffed over 130 educational institutions in the archdiocese, including the most recently established school, St. Joseph Preparatory High School in Brighton, which was founded last year.

The Sisters of St. Joseph celebrated the 140th anniversary of their founding in Boston with a Mass at St. Agatha Parish in Milton. They were the first teachers at the parish's school 72 years ago.

After the service, James Dowd, a St. Joseph's board member, called the sisters the "primary drivers" in Catholic education in the Boston area. He said the Mass celebrated the sisters' legacy and their continued mission.

Head of the Brighton school, Thomas Nunan Jr., agreed, calling the sisters a "great blessing" to the students. Every day, the students witness the sisters' "living faith."

"The sisters bring a real prayerful presence to our school," he said. "They are so faithful and open. It is no wonder that they are known for their gracious hospitality."

From their first days in Boston, the sisters found many ways to contribute their gifts to the Catholic community. When they first arrived, the Catholic immigrant population was growing at a rapid rate and many were struggling to find work. The sisters helped them and assisted those who were hungry, ill and homeless.

In his homily, Bishop Robert P. Deeley said the sisters raised money by sewing and selling baseballs. Originally from LePuy, France, the order was known for making lace.

"It was quite a journey from the lace at LePuy to baseballs in Boston," he said, praising their ingenuity and creativity. "The sisters had arrived in America and were staying -- as they involved themselves in America's pastime."

Bishop Deeley commended the institutional achievements of the sisters who have worked in over 30 health care ministries and participated in over 85 service ministries within Boston. He added that as important as those achievements are, the sisters have left indelible marks in the way they have touched so many individuals' lives.

Bishop Deeley himself received 12 years of instruction from the sisters, first at Sacred Heart School in Watertown and then Matignon High School in Cambridge. He praised the education, advice and encouragement in his vocation that he received from them.

He recalled a vivid memory of a large slice of lemon meringue pie, given by the sisters one cold winter afternoon as a reward for clearing snow off the convent steps. He said that growing up with five brothers, he rarely had such a large serving of dessert and that the sisters' generosity made an impression.

"The influence of the sisters and their encouragement and support to my parents and my brothers was tremendous, and an important part of our formation," he said. "I cannot think of a time during my 40 years of priesthood in the Archdiocese of Boston when a Sister of St. Joseph has not been a resource, a collaborator or a staff person working alongside me in the ministry of the Church."

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