The Civil War had just ended and Bishop Jean-Pierre Augustin Verot called upon the Sisters of St. Joseph of Le Puy, France to come to Florida for “the thousand of Blacks without education and without religion or Baptism.” On September 2, 1866, eight brave Sisters stepped off a boat at Picolata, Florida for the final part of their journey to St. Augustine.
Picolata is located where State Roads 13 and 208 meet, which was a natural place for crossing the river as the St. Johns narrows at this point. “To the Sisters of St. Joseph, the landing at Picolata is as important as landing on the moon is to NASA,” stated Sr. Jane Stoecker, General Superior. “Because of the courage and stamina of these pioneer Sisters, we are here today celebrating 145 years of serving God’s people in Florida.” In prior years, each September the Sisters would return to Picolata to remember the Sisters who came before them.
Sr. Thomas Joseph McGoldrick states in her book, Beyond the Call, that little is known about the first eight sisters, but through their legacy we do know that they were women of strong faith, dauntless conviction and indefatigable energy. The Sisters of St. Joseph were the only European religious to venture to the New World for the sole purpose of educating liberated slaves. The obstacles they endured to bring education to the black people of Florida continued through the Civil Rights Era.
For the 145th anniversary, Bishop Estevez will celebrate Mass on Friday morning at the Motherhouse Chapel. That evening the Sisters will gather for a presentation by Sr. Thomas Joseph on the Sisters’ journey to St. Augustine followed by prayers and a special dinner.
The Sisters will also mark this historic event with a concert by St. Augustine Schola Cantorae on Sunday, November 13 at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church at 3:00 p.m. Cantorae St. Augustine will perform a variety of songs and spirituals from French folk songs to Stephen Foster compositions while telling the story of eight pioneer Sisters.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, reach “The Dear Neighbor” in many diverse ministries throughout the state of Florida. In 1866 the Sisters of St. Joseph were brought to St. Augustine to teach the children of recently freed slaves. Education and healthcare have been important ministries for us. We are involved in all levels of education including elementary and high schools, adult education, art education, literacy, and special education. Our pastoral and spiritual ministries place us in parish settings, pastoral care, chaplaincy, spiritual direction and retreat work. We serve in leadership roles throughout the dioceses of Florida and within our own congregation. We reach to France with a Sister who is currently ministering at the Centre International St. Joseph.