The Sisters of Saint Joseph are women who work in a simple ordinary way sharing in the mission of Jesus in the service of the poor through education and works of charity.1
Early Foundation at Wattle Flat
Just six years after their origin in Penola SA, and at the invitation of Bishop Matthew Quinn of Bathurst, the Sisters made the first foundation in New South Wales at Perthville in July 1872. With the arrival of more Sisters from Adelaide and the admission of young women to the Congregation, an additional five schools and convents were able to be opened. In keeping with the founding spirit the Sisters, as well as teaching in the school, visited families and the sick and gave religious instruction to children and adults.
Central Government is a core principle of the Constitutions of the Sisters of Saint Joseph approved by Rome and ratified by the General Chapter of the Congregation in 1875. In that year Mary MacKillop visited the Sisters in Bathurst and the professed Sisters renewed their vows according to the approved Constitutions. However, Bishop Quinn would not accept the principle of Central Government and gave the Sisters the option of either staying in Bathurst as a Diocesan Institute under his authority or of leaving the Diocese. In 1876 the Sisters loyal to the Constitutions of 1875 withdrew from New South Wales, and the Perthville Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph was established by Bishop Quinn.
Three years later, at the end of 1879, Sisters who had been forced to withdraw from Queensland travelled to New South Wales with Mary MacKillop and spent Christmas in Sydney. From 1880, in response to the invitations of Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB of Sydney and Bishop Elzear Torreggiani OSFC of Armidale, foundations were again made in New South Wales. Other Dioceses were also served by the Sisters of Saint Joseph when Diocesan Congregations were founded from Perthville and were established in Goulburn in 1882, in Lochinvar in 1883, and in Wilcannia in 1887 when that Diocese was created.
Alma Cottage today
In 1880 when the Sisters recommenced their work in NSW one of their first undertakings was the setting up of a House of Providence in The Rocks area of Sydney. In this house, the Sisters cared for homeless women and children and were joined by Mary MacKillop when she was forced to leave Adelaide in 1883. In the following year Alma Cottage in Mount Street North Sydney was gifted to the Sisters and Mary made this her home. The site quickly developed as the Mother House of the Congregation, the Novitiate, and the Teacher Training School with its adjacent ‘Practice School’. From North Sydney, Mary visited the Sisters, supported them in new foundations, examined the schools and assisted in the formation of the novices. It was at North Sydney in August 1909 that Mary MacKillop died and in 1914 her remains were reinterred in the Chapel built in her memory. This Chapel and tomb within Mary MacKillop Place are now places of pilgrimage and of healing.
St Margaret’s Hospital
Education is a prime task of the Sisters of Saint Joseph2 and in New South Wales from 1880 schools were opened in city and rural areas. Music education was introduced; Sisters in rural areas conducted ‘Vacation Bush Schools’; a Correspondence School for religious education was established and, as needs changed, Sisters on ‘Motor Missions’ provided religious education for Catholic children attending State Schools. Sisters also lectured in Teacher Training Colleges and in Universities.
Homes to care for children in need were established from the 1880s and, in the 1930s, the Sisters assumed responsibility for St Margaret’s Hospital for Women and then St Margaret’s Children’s Hospital which was later refurbished as the Gertrude Abbott Nursing Home.
As Sisters continue to respond to the changing needs within our society, they provide pastoral care in a variety of settings: in aged care, hospitals, prisons, parishes, schools, and in aboriginal and migrant communities. Spiritual guidance and development are offered in spirituality centres and in outreach, while education in justice and ecological issues is translated into action for refugees, for East Timor (Timor Leste) and for the environment.
For the purpose of governance within the Congregation, Sisters in New South Wales were grouped in various ways until 1983 when a single Province was formed. In 2013 this Province was restructured as a Region. Unity at another level has been a process, too. In 1902, to the delight of Mary MacKillop, the Diocesan Congregation of Wilcannia amalgamated with the ‘Central’ Congregation. Then in recent years the Goulburn Congregation (in 2013) and the Perthville Congregation (in 2014) fused with the ‘Central’ Congregation. With this new unity, Sisters in New South Wales, as Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart trusting in the Providence of God, continue to serve the local Church and bring compassion to the people whom they serve.3
1 – 3 c.f. Constitutions of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
Page last updated October 2017