In 1650 the first SSJ community was founded in Le Puy, France. With the assistance of Fr. Médaille and Bishop de Maupas the first six women formed what they called “the Little Design”, which would enable them to live in community, pray together, and devote their lives to addressing the needs of the poor of their day. They showed a profound desire for union with God and “the dear neighbour” a term frequently used by Fr. Médaille. It was a unique calling at that time; vowed, non-cloistered Religious women, who went out to respond to the needs of the poor.
The communities spread rapidly over the years leading up to the French Revolution, after which, they were dispersed or went into hiding. Some of the Sisters were martyred. The Congregation was subsequently restored in 1807 by Mother St. John Fontbonne and flourished once more.
1833 A Foundation at Annecy
In 1833, an SSJ community was founded in Annecy. The new Congregation grew and developed, and their first mission in India was established in 1849. From there, thanks to the initiative and generosity of a British Army officer, Captain Dewell, who had witnessed the wonderful work done by the Sisters, plans were set in motion to establish a mission of the Sisters in his home County of Wiltshire.
On the 24th May 1864, two Sisters – Mother Athanase Novel and Sr. Stanislaus Bryan - left India for the English mission. After a hazardous journey and two-month period of rest at the Mother House in Annecy, together with an English novice, Sr. Josephine Twomey, they set out for England, on August 16th, 1864 and set up the first community in Devizes. On September 1st, 1864, the three Sisters opened a school in Mundy Market, for poor children, starting with 12 pupils who paid one penny a week.
Mother Athanase Novel