The Sesquicentenary of the Sisters of St Joseph –
From Then until Now

A hundred and fifty years ago on 19 March 1866, the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph, founded by Saint Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods, came into existence and its first members became involved in ministry in Penola.

Since that time, the members of the Congregation and their supporters have been involved in various ministries where they have focussed especially on the less fortunate in society.

As the year draws to a close, below are just a few of the memorable moments and quotes from throughout the year…



What sustains our hope are the life transforming stories of the work and ministries of the Sisters today - stories of literacy programmes reaching remote villages in Timor Leste through the work of Mary MacKillop International, a new women’s group beginning in Peru, children whose hope is being restored through the work of Good Grief, indigenous children in isolated rural communities attending play groups through the work of Mary MacKillop Rural Services, groups receiving small life-changing grants from the Mary MacKillop Foundation and the Sisters of St Joseph responding daily to the needs and care of people as they live faithfully the call to walk alongside people in the ordinariness of the everyday. 

Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj
Congregational Leader


As we drove into Penola on the previous afternoon, we were greeted by banners proclaiming proudly: Penola where it all began. Yes, that was it, and a sense of excitement and of joy and gratitude for the 150 years of growth and development that have resulted from that seemingly tiny event right there so long ago.

Sr Marie Foale rsj
Penola Celebrations on 19th March, 2016


There was a sense of joy and deep gratitude amongst us all as we shared this day for the vision and inspiration of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods and the influence Joseph had in their lives in founding the Congregation.

Sr Lyndall Brown rsj
Sesqui Celebrations at Mission Bay, Auckland NZ



Mary MacKillop used the saying, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”
After 150 years, we, the Sisters of St Joseph hold many memories of the heart. In gratitude, we remember that it was your community that supported financially and physically us Sisters in your towns, you furnished our convents, filled our pantries, chopped the wood for our stoves, mowed our lawns, and fixed whatever (and some of us expected miracles). You drove us hither and thither, in carts, buggies and cars. When disaster struck, it was you who made sure that the Sisters found a place to stay and had all they needed. It was around your kitchen tables over cuppas that we sat and talked to you about your children, shared your companionship and your joys or, at times, your sorrows after a death, or just listened as one woman to another, often sharing the remoteness and isolation with you.

Helen Duke rsj
at the Diocese of Port Pirie, SA Celebration

The colourful entrance procession seemed endless at St Francis Church as the choir, servers and celebrants approached the sanctuary to the strains of “Penola’s Plains.”

Patricia Williams rsj
at the Mass of Mary MacKillop for the Sesquicentenary of the Sisters in Victoria


Do all the good they can and never see an evil without trying how they may remedy it…
This is their mission…
The religious must do any good that they can, and make their charity all-embracing.
(Woods, Rules for the Institute of St Joseph, 1867, par. 13.)




Page Banner Timeline image:
Top Row (left to right): Saint Mary MacKillop, Sr Baptista Molloy, Sr Cyril Elkis, Sr Leone Ryan,
Sr Denis Earl, Sr Mary Cresp, Sr Katrina Brill, Sr Monica Cavanagh.
Bottom Row (left to right): Sr Bernard Walsh, Sr Laurence O’Brien, Sr Josephine Cahill,
Sr Adrian Ryan, Sr Elizabeth Murphy, Sr Giovanni Farquer, Sr Anne Derwin