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The History of the Saint Joseph Educational Ministries (SJEM)

“In 1650, six women and a Jesuit priest transformed the world by changing the way women did ministry. Today SJEM empowers our institutions to carry on that legacy bringing love and unity in our work with the dear neighbor, especially those in most need.”

Dave Armstrong
Founding member of SJEM and Director of University Mission and Ministry Avila University

The sisters of St. Joseph have maintained a presence in their five institutions (Avila University, Fontbonne University, St. Teresa’s Academy, St. Joseph’s Academy and St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf) from as early as 1837. The sisters were essential to these institutions’ survival as they served as teachers, administrators, coaches, board members and every other position as needed.

The sisters instilled in each of their schools the Catholic values that today remain at the core of their mission, “to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.” The Sisters, hoping to be involved as long as possible in their institutions and to guarantee the future of their legacy through mission and charism, have partnered with well-formed lay leaders.

Almost thirty years ago they began the process of involving the laity in leadership positions in their educational ministries along with campus formation programs to ensure continuation of each institution as Catholic and personifying their charism. For many years, the Sisters held annual meetings for representative groups from each sponsored educational institution. The agenda included keynote speakers on pertinent topics and opportunities for participants to share information, best practices and build relationships.


The St. Louis Province deemed sponsorship a high priority as they planned for the future. In 2013, the Province leadership team announced the formation of a task force on sponsorship to determine if the Province should strengthen, change or relinquish sponsorship. The task force presented their recommendation to relinquish sponsorship to the St Louis Province Corporation and the recommendation was formally accepted on August 24, 2015.

In 2015, a Sponsorship Collaborative Group was formed. This group was composed of the presidents, board chairs and one other designee from each of the five sponsored institutions and members of the Province Leadership. Their task was to form the structure that would best meet their needs and the needs of the Church. The Collaborative recommended that the sponsorship responsibility for Catholic Identity and CSJ charism be transferred from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province to a group composed of lay partners and Sisters of St. Joseph with approval by the Vatican.

In 2017, the Statutes, Canonical bylaws, Criteria for Members and Formation Program for Members and Educational Institutions were approved by the Collaborative and the Province Leadership. The bishops from each of the dioceses were given a copy of these documents and, after their edits, the bishops provided a letter of support. In 2018, the documents were sent to the Holy See and on January 20, 2020 St. Joseph Educational Ministries was approved by the Vatican as a Ministerial Public Juridic Person.

Carrying the legacy forward

Today, the charism, the essence of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, is still calling forth a relationship with God, our neighbor and all of creation in our institutions. They are asked to carry the legacy forward by sending blessings to our world through the individuals they educate.