John Peter Medaille was born in Carcassonne, on October 6th, 1610 in France. He was a student of the Jesuits at the college of his native city, and joined his teachers, by entering the Jesuit Novitiate at Toulouse in 1626. Contemporary within a few years of two canonized Saints, John Peter Medaille had the advantage of living for a time with both of them; St. Francis Regis and St. Noel Chabanel.
This aptitude for spiritual things which his Superiors recognized in him, brings out the quality of his soul. A short time after Fr. Medaille's death his Superiors wrote of him: "He spent a great part of his life in the missions of the Province, with such a reputation for zeal and sanctity that many called him 'the Saint' and 'the Apostle'.
Fr. Medaille desired that his daughters "have an insatiable and indefatigable apostolic concern for proclaiming the Gospel to all those around them in order to bring about 'this two-fold union of themselves with God and with everyone around them'. (Goal of the Institute). Their names are officially known, thanks to the signatures of a Contract in 1652 before the royal apostolic notary. This is what was found in the records:-
By their willingness and sincere desire to devote themselves to the direction and instruction of orphan girls, the following have formed an association:-
- Francoise Eyraud - Diocese of Le Puy, first Superior, who died in this office around 1683.
- Claudia Chastel - Diocese of Mende, widow. She brings a dowry and alone signs the contract, the others having declared themselves illiterate.
- Marguerite Burdier - Diocese of Lyon
- Anne Chalayer - Diocese of Lyon
- Anna Vey - Diocese of Le Puy
- Anna Brun - Diocese of Le Puy
These first six sisters of St. Joseph on whom the existence and expansion of the Institute rested, were poor in regard to money, social standing and education, but rich only in their desire of belonging completely to the Lord, and in their capability of serving mankind.
The Congregation grew by leaps and bounds, as the Sisters of St. Joseph spread in small communities throughout the Centre of France. In the diocese, the Bishops desired to have them, and due to lack of transport and communication, they became autonomous groups under the Bishop, taking the name of the Diocese to which they belonged. Thus originated the various Congregations of St. Joseph, but having the same spirit and Founder.
His apostolic life was very fruitful: he was always esteemed not only by the poor but also by the rich, and especially by the Bishops in whose dioceses he had to work.
His unique spirituality is found in the various texts that he wrote: the Maxims and Rules the Eucharistic Letter and the Constitution of the first Daughters of St. Joseph. His spirituality was very much lgnatian in depth, but it was based also on Salesian gentleness, as well as on the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Eucharist, which characterized the French School. In his Spiritual Maxims, Fr. Medaille stresses the love of God, conformity to his will, humility and zeal which he himself practised, and advocated to his followers. He had a deep religious spirit, natural talents, apostolic zeal and warmth which helped him to go ahead in the daring enterprise of founding the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was during his stay in St. Flour, and from 1646 on, that we find him concerned with the foundation of the Daughters of St. Joseph, as the first foundation was called. It began as a secret Institute with Jesus in the Eucharist as the model. Four years later in 1650, the Bishop of Le Puy, Bishop Henri de Maupas, officially received the group of Fr. Medaille, giving it the name of Sisters of St. Joseph, with a canonical status.