Sisters of St. Joseph: Mission of literacy

Journey 2016

Following the surrender of the Confederacy and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, Little Africa formed on the west bank of the Maria Sanchez River in St. Augustine.

Sadly, this area was rife with poverty caused by illiteracy. However, some outside help from Europe would change the course for these impoverished people.

In 1865, at the request of Bishop Agustin Verot in St. Augustine, France assisted in teaching African-Americans how to read. More than 160 nuns volunteered, and eight were chosen for the journey across the Atlantic. They were known as the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Before the nuns could even begin teaching African-Americans in St. Augustine, they had to first learn the English language and the local culture. Their first students were young boys, and a few weeks later, little girls and adults at night.

However, the education of these struggling people was not met with open arms. In fact, it was suppressed as much as possible. In 1916, three sisters were arrested on Easter Sunday because at that time, it was illegal to teach blacks. The law was lifted not long after the nuns were arrested.

The nuns were so revered by the community, when they passed away, the African-American women from the cathedral parish took over the funeral.

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