PBS documentary illuminates order’s 150-year history

September 15, 2016

The Jacksonville, Fla., Public Broadcasting Service station has produced an hour-long documentary covering highlights of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine's 150 years of ministry in Florida.

Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine at Mercy Hospital in Miami, circa the 1960s. The sisters' congregation founded Mercy Hospital in Miami and its nursing school.

Mercy Hospital Miami, a hospital founded by the order, will screen "Legacy of Faith: The Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, Florida" on its campus Sept. 23; and the Miami PBS station, WPBT, will air the documentary Sept. 25 and 26. Earlier this year, the documentary aired in northeast Florida.

WJCT, the PBS station that produced the episode, is billing the piece as a celebration of the sisters' 150th anniversary — an oral history delivered in large part by the sisters themselves. The documentary features letters written by some of the original sisters who had traveled by ship from their native France to Florida in 1866 to educate liberated slaves. The documentary also shares correspondence between bishops and mother superiors of the congregation that illustrate what the living conditions, social context and ministry challenges were at various points in the congregation's history.

Over their history, the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine have served in the fields of education, health care and social services. Withstanding public pressure, they taught black children in 1916, when the state had prohibitions against doing so.

Primarily during the 1950s and 1960s, the congregation founded or helped to establish five Florida hospitals as well as a nursing home, a facility for single mothers, children's homes and schools for disabled children.

Today, there are 57 Sisters of St. Joseph in Florida. Many serve in education, social services, the arts — creating stained glass and pottery — and in other ministries in the state. The PBS documentary includes interviews with some of these sisters on their calling to religious life and how they have carried out their ministries.


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