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The Legacy of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph

  Agnes Victoria Hilbert, Foundress, 1865-1938
Agnes Victoria Hilbert, was educated in a private academy in Cieszyn, the territory of Austrian Poland, by the Sisters of Charity of St. Charles Borromeo. Agnes was received into the Charity Sisters’ Congregation in 1883 and given the name of Sister Mary Colette. The seed of her missionary vocation was realized not to minister to the Church in Africa, but across the Atlantic Ocean to the Church of the United States.
“Birth” of a New Congregation
In 1889, Sister Colette and four Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo were sent to educate the children of St. Stanislaus Parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eight years later, Sister Colette was transferred to Trenton, New Jersey and was asked to end her affiliation with her Congregation in Europe and establish a new Congregation of Sisters in the United States. With the assistance of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Pope Leo XIII had granted Sister Colette permission to establish a new Congregation of Sisters with the mission of service to God’s people through education and charitable works.
  Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph
On September 8, 1897, Sister Colette and four American novices adopted the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis as their way of life in God’s service. In 1928, after having been granted permission and a blessing for the new venture by Pope Leo XIII, Sister Colette became the first General Minister of the newly-established Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph (FSSJ). Because of the Congregation’s growth in the number of women applying to this new way of life, the Sisters moved from Buffalo, New York to the convent in Hamburg, New York.
Finalities with Expressions of Love
Because of Mother Colette’s new appointment, she wrote to the Charity Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, asking for their blessing and expressing her gratitude to her former Congregation. A letter arrived from the Charity Sisters with good wishes, blessings, and success, and “loving regards from all of us.” The postscript is recorded as “If ever, dear Sister, you should be in need, our doors and our hearts are always open to receive you because we love you.”
  New Beginning
After their acceptance into the FSSJ Congregation, the five Sister “pioneers” settled in Trenton, New Jersey – but not for long. Pope Leo XIII granted the necessary permission to the Bishop of Buffalo, New York to establish a convent for the new community of Franciscan Sisters. Because of her leadership qualities, Sister Colette was recognized as the Foundress of the new Congregation, was lovingly called Mother Colette, and became the principal of Corpus Christi School.
“In All Things – Charity”
Mother Colette’s rich educational background and teaching experience on two continents contributed to an enriched curriculum. It was not only the curriculum and her leadership qualities that formed her pupils, but also her compassion for the needy among the students. Mother Colette’s philosophy of life can be summed up in four words: “In All Things – Charity.”
  Mother Colette, who is buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga, New York, is remembered and honored each year on July 13, the anniversary of her death in 1938. To date, 11 General Ministers have followed the Foundress in servant leadership.
Service to God’s People
Through the many years, as young women were entering the Congregation, the Sisters opened and staffed countless schools and served in various educational positions in Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. FSSJ’s Immaculata Academy, a high school for girls, and Hilbert College, named after Mother Colette Hilbert, were built on the convent grounds. Sisters also ministered in health care in Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, Vietnam, and Brazil.
Ministries to Continue the Mission
Although the FSSJ continue in their ministries of teaching, health care, and pastoral ministry, countless times the Sisters are challenged by the evolving needs of the Church to translate the Gospel into effective action. So, they answer the call by assuming new ministerial responsibilities. Sisters continue their involvement in peace and justice issues, outreach to the poor, and serve on Boards of Trustees of various organizations. They also volunteer their services in areas of need. The source of spiritual strength not only for the Congregation but also for the people of God comes from the Sisters’ communal prayer life and the untiring prayers of the Sisters retired from active ministry and those residing in the health care community. Called by God, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph serve the Church and continue the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi and their Foundress – Mother Colette Hilbert.

Charism Statement of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph

Called by God into the Fraternity of Francis,
We live in Simplicity, Servanthood and Joy
Renewing the spirit of Mother Colette Hilbert

"In All Things - Charity"
Mother Colette Hilbert
Foundress of the Franciscan
Sisters of St. Joseph

Fraternity-Since love of Christ must include love of neighbor, Franciscan spirituality embraces all persons in a universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Thus, we aspire to love and accept each other so that through this relational commitment we manifest Christ to the world.

Simplicity-In singleness of heart, as children of the loving Creator, we place God first and trust in God's generosity and care for us.

Servanthood-Mary, the servant of the Most High, was the closest of all human beings to the Savior--the greatest Servant of all. Like Mary, we are bearers of the Word of God; we live among God's people in order to witness to a Gospel way of life and to serve the needs of the Church and the world.

Joy-Our source of joy is God who sent Jesus to redeem us and who calls us to share in God's unconditional love. As we follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis, joy is the sign of the Holy Spirit's presence in us.

Renewing the spirit of Mother Colette Hilbert, "In all things-Charity."-The message of the Gospel is one of love. Through our ongoing conversion and with compassionate hearts, we commit ourselves to a way of life that leads to a living transformation into Christ in personal and communal endeavors.

©2009 Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph

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