The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart were co-founded by Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods in response to a directive from Bishop Geoghegan of Adelaide to provide for the catholic education of children in the young colony.

In 1866 Mary accepted Julian’s invitation to come to Penola in South Australia’s South East and there she became the first Sister of St Joseph. The first school was a disused stable (see photo gallery below).

Mary taught in Penola until June 1867 when Fr Woods, who by now was Director of Catholic Education in South Australia, asked her to move to Adelaide to open schools and to assist him with teacher training.

Mary arrived and, together with two companions, took up residence in a small rented cottage in Grote Street. Within a fortnight they had taken charge of the St Francis Xavier Cathedral Hall School and had commenced teaching there.

Julian Woods, in proposing the new Religious Order, had expressed the wish that the Sisters would be involved not only in education but also in managing charitable institutions which would care for those in need especially women and children. So by 1868 the Sisters were looking after St Joseph’s Refuge, St Vincent de Paul’s Orphanage and St Joseph’s House of Providence (see photo gallery below). The Sisters endeavoured to respond to the needs of the disadvantaged wherever they were.

The new Congregation prospered and many young women joined Mary. By September 1871 there were 127 Sisters in 38 schools and 4 institutions in South Australia.

The Sisters encountered many difficulties in those early years. A major crisis occurred in September 1871 when, through misunderstanding and being badly informed, Bishop Sheil excommunicated Mary MacKillop. She and 51 Sisters returned to lay life. During the following five months Mary encouraged and supported her Sisters in exile. When he recognised the error of his actions, the dying Bishop revoked the sentence of excommunication on 22nd February 1872. It was with great joy that most of them resumed their habits in March of the same year.

Soon afterwards an eight roomed house situated on a three cornered block in Kensington (see photo gallery below) became available and the Sisters moved there. This became the first Mother House and Novitiate for the Congregation. In 1876 Mary MacKillop had the Chapel built and this was to be the first of several major building projects to be undertaken on this site over the years. Mary MacKillop opened a second Novitiate in Sydney in 1882. The Mother House moved to Sydney in 1888 and the Adelaide Novitiate closed in 1940.

The Sisters of the South Australian Province continue to live the charism of Mary MacKillop and are fired by the same spirit that inspired the early Sisters to respond to the needs of their times. They are very proud of being able to live and minister in the place where the Congregation was first founded.