The Congregation of St. Joseph was established in 2007 when seven previously separate communities of Sisters of St. Joseph chose to come together. The seven communities were the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cleveland (Ohio); LaGrange (Illinois); Medaille (with centers in Ohio, Louisiana, and Minnesota); Nazareth (Michigan); Tipton (Indiana); Wheeling (West Virginia); and Wichita (Kansas). Just two of the founding communities – Nazareth and Wichita – sponsored health ministries.
The roots of the Congregation of St. Joseph stretch back to Le Puy, France, in 1651, with the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph under the influence of a Jesuit priest, Jean Pierre Medaille. Their first charge: running the orphanage in Le Puy. Soon they were engaged throughout France in running schools, hospitals, orphanages and institutes for the deaf.
In 1889, 11 Sisters arrived in Kalamazoo, Mich., at the request of Monsignor Francis O’Brien, for the purpose of establishing a hospital. Under the leadership of Mother Margaret Mary Lacy, these same Sisters also began an orphanage and a school. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth established their motherhouse at Nazareth, Mich., on the outskirts of Kalamazoo, from which they conducted their healthcare social work, education, parish and pastoral ministry, and spiritual development.
Around the same time, in 1883, six Sisters of St. Joseph were encouraged by a local bishop to put down roots in Kansas. Their first priority was education. The Sisters established a permanent home in Wichita in 1900 and became the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita. They moved into healthcare in 1903 with the opening of a hospital in Pittsburg, Kan. Over the next century the Sisters expanded their healthcare ministry throughout Kansas. In 1995 they merged their healthcare ministry with that of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, who had arrived in Wichita in 1889, and the ministry was named Via Christi Health System.
In 1999, when the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth joined their health ministry with that of the Daughters of Charity to form Ascension Health, their health system had grown to encompass four regional health systems operating more than 30 hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics and other healthcare facilities spread throughout lower Michigan.
In 2007, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth became part of a combined congregation, the Congregation of St. Joseph and Via Christi Health System became an affiliate member of Ascension Health while maintaining its co-sponsorship by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.