Jeanne Fontbonne

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Jeanne Fontbonne (31 March 1759 at Bas-en-Basset, Haute Loire, France – 22 November 1843 in Lyon), more commonly known by her name in religion Mother St. John Fontbonne, C.S.J., was a French religious sister. She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon in 1808 after the French Revolution and served as its first Superior General.


In 1778 she entered a house of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which had just been established at Monistrol (Haute-Loire) by Bishop de Gallard of Le Puy. The following year she received the religious habit. At the age of 26 she was chosen by the community to be their Superior and remained there until the French Revolution. She and her sisters established a hospital (not a medical institution, but rather a place to receive the poor).

At the outbreak of the French Revolution she and her community followed Bishop de Gallard in refusing to sign the Oath of Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Forced to disperse her community, she remained until she was forced to leave, and the convent taken possession of to make arms. She returned to her father's home, and was soon imprisoned for 11 months at Saint-Didier for her resistance to the local Constitutional priest. Unable to regain possession of her convent at Monistrol, she and her sister, who had been her companion in prison, returned again to their father's house.

Twelve years later (1807), Mother St. John was called to Saint-Étienne to assume responsibility for a group of 12 women known as the Black Daughters. At the request of Cardinal Fesch, Archbishop of Lyon, and under Mother St. John's formation, these women became the first Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon. She restored the asylum at Monistrol, eventually was able to repurchased and reopened the former convent, and on 10 April 1812, the congregation received Government authorization. In 1816 Mother St. John was appointed Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon. She went to Lyon to find and purchase property to build a motherhouse and novitiate on rue des Chartreux.

During her years of leadership, she established and reorganized pre-revolutionary communities to become satellites of the Motherhouse. By the end of her leadership, she was responsible for establishing a number of new congregations in France and Italy as well as over 240 communities of the Lyon congregation. In 1836 at the request of Bishop Rosati of the St. Louis, Missouri, Diocese she sent six sisters to America. She kept in constant correspondence with them. And thus began the expansion of numerous congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States and Canada.

Fontbonne College, now Fontbonne University, in Saint Louis is named in her honor.


  • Rivaux, Life of Rev. Mother St. John Fontbonne, tr. (New York, 1887).

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.