Julian Tenison Woods' Story

1832 - 1889

Julian Tenison Woods was born in London on November 15, 1832. He was one of eleven children and came from a family that encouraged a love of learning, nature and the outdoors.

In 1855 Julian arrived in Tasmania. He was ordained a priest in Adelaide and was sent to work in the Parish of Penola in South Australia. As Julian described it, this parish included '22,000 square miles* of country, more than half of which was desert. The remaining portion was taken up with sheep and cattle runs.' (* 56,000 square kilometres)

Julian was an Englishman in a largely Irish Church, a friend of leading Establishment figures, a founder of two religious orders, a gifted missionary priest, scientist, writer, musician and popular lecturer. In 1861, Julian met Mary MacKillop. Together in Penola in 1866, they founded the Sisters of St Joseph dedicated to the Catholic education of the children of the poor and to other pressing social needs. Later that year, Julian was appointed Director of Catholic Education and asked Mary to come to Adelaide to assist him in developing an organised system of Catholic education with schools staffed by the Sisters of St Joseph.

After four years as Director of Catholic Education, Julian continued working as a scientist and missionary priest in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland.

In 1883, he spent three years travelling through Asia, exploring and reporting on the mineral and coal deposits of the Malayan Peninsula and other nearby countries.

He returned to Sydney in 1886 and was later awarded the prestigious Clarke Medal for distinguished contribution to Natural Science.

He died in Sydney on October 7, 1889 at the age of 57.

Woods' life presents an enigma in its dichotomies: a gentleman-scientist and a roving Catholic missionary priest; a member of the elite Australian Club and a founder of religious orders; a talented and clear - thinking scientist and one who encouraged a suspect mysticism in some members of the Sisters of St Joseph.

Yet for all his shadow side, Woods worked tirelessly to extend the reign of God in his times. Creatively and innovatively he used his considerable gifts to add to the 'edifices' of Church and Society. Underpinning all that he strove to be and all that he did was his unshakeable belief that the Providence of a loving God guided him and pervaded all creation.


How appropriate is the last resting place of the gentle learned priest and naturalist! Crowned with the cross, beneath the statue of the 'Sweet Mother' whom he loved so tenderly - a little child in the next grave, 'Australia's gifted son' Deniehy at his feet, the 'Silver-tongued' Dalley close by - typifying all that during life had most delighted him - Devotion, Innocence, and Intellect!

Mary MacKillop, 1903


There on the hillside at Waverley overlooking the Pacific, which washes far below the rocky cemetery and murmurs a perpetual requiem in its own soul-stirring music, the mortal remains of Father J.E. Tenison Woods await the resurrection.

In its triumphs and in its diminishments, in its serenity and in its turmoil Woods' life uniquely contributed to the symphony of creation.

More information about Julian's Story can be found at: