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In religion Mother St. John, second foundress and superior-general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons, born 3 March, 1759, at Bassen-Basset, Valey, France; died 22 November, 1843 Lyons.
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 habit and soon gave evidence of unusual administrative powers, particularly through her work in the schools. On her election, six years later, as superior of the community, Mother St. John, as she was now called, co-operated with the saintly founder in all his pious undertakings, aided in the establishment of a hospital, and accomplished much good among the young girls of the town. At the outbreak of the Revolution she and her community followed Bishop de Gallard in refusing to sign the Oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, notwithstanding the example of the Curé of Monistrol, who went so far as to abet the government officials in their persecution of the sisters. Forced to disperse her community, the superior remained at her post till she was dragged forth by the mob and the convent taken possession of in the name of the Commune, after which she returned to her father's home. Not long afterwards she was torn from this refuge, to be thrown into the prison of Saint-Didier, and only the fall of Robespierre on the day before that appointed for the execution saved her from the guillotine.
Unable to regain possession of her convent at Monistrol, she and her sister, who had been her companion in prison, returned to their father's house. Twelve years later (1807), Mother St. John was called to Saint-Etienne as head of a small community of young girls and members of dispersed congregations, who at the suggestion of Cardinal Fesch, Archbishop of Lyons, were now established as a house of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She restored the asylum at Monistrol, 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, and summoned to Lyons to found a general mother-house and novitiate, which she accomplished after many difficult years of labour. During the remainder of her life she was busied in perfecting the affiliation of the scattered houses of the congregation, which had been formally decreed in 1828. She also established over two hundred new communities. An object of her special solicitude was the little band which she sent to the United States in 1836 and with which she kept in constant correspondence, making every sacrifice to provide them with the necessities of life. Towards this end of her life, Mother St. John was relieved of the arduous duties of superior, and spent the last few years in preparation for the end.
RIVAXY, Life of Rev. Mother St. John Fontbonne, tr. (New York, 1887).