Mary MacKillop and five other Sisters of Saint Joseph arrived in Queensland on 31 December, 1869, at the invitation of James Quinn, first Catholic bishop of Brisbane and founder of the Catholic Education system in Queensland.

Allora Schoolroom

The Sisters offered Catholic education to the children of the working class in cities and isolated settlements according to the Woods-MacKillop system of parish-based schools. By mid-January 1870 the Josephites were teaching at St Mary’s School, South Brisbane, and by July they had opened three more schools, two in Brisbane and the other one in the country town of Maryborough.

During the next ten years the Sisters established fourteen schools, an orphanage at Mackay and were teaching about half of the total number of children attending Catholic schools in the diocese. Seventy-nine Sisters had worked in the colony and of these over sixty had joined the Sisterhood in Queensland.

These ten years, however, were marred by a controversy with Bishop Quinn over the Sisters’ style of government which placed the responsibility for the internal administration of the Sisterhood with the Sisters themselves rather than with the bishop of the diocese. This controversy culminated with Bishop Quinn asking them to leave his diocese. Although many of the laity petitioned the bishop to allow the Sisters to remain, the bishop refused, and in mid-July 1880 the last community of Josephites left the diocese of Brisbane.

Nundah School Circa 1930

The Sisters of Saint Joseph returned to Queensland in 1900, not to Brisbane, but to a country town, Clermont, in the newly formed diocese of Rockhampton. In a letter to all the Sisters, Mary MacKillop shared her happiness: ‘I am glad to think the Sisters will be back in dear old Queensland, once more.’ Between 1902 and 1915 five more schools were opened in the diocese: Alpha (1902), Cloncurry (1910), Wandal (1912), Mt Chalmers (1913), and Richmond (1915). It was not until 1915 that the Sisters were invited to return to the Archdiocese of Brisbane, and in 1916 they opened Catholic schools at Nundah, a working class suburb of Brisbane, and also in the country towns of Allora and Pittsworth on the Darling Downs.

After 1916 the provision of Catholic education became a pastoral priority of the bishops, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph were invited to open schools in the newly formed parishes in the cities and in the outback towns.

Nundah 1916

Between 1870 and 2003, the Josephites opened sixty-nine Parish primary schools, forty-six of which are still continuing, five Parish secondary schools, and ‘Corpus Christi College,’ renamed Mary MacKillop College, Nundah, a secondary school owned by the Congregation that is now part of Archdiocesan Catholic Education System.

Over five hundred Sisters have devoted their lives to sharing in the Josephite ministry in Queensland. Besides teaching in schools and private music centres, the Sisters have taught  faith education to children in state schools, cared for mothers and families in need, looked after and cooked for children in outback boarding schools,  served as pastoral associates in parishes, chaplains to the gaols and hospitals, counsellors to those in need, worked in partnership with indigenous people, offered spiritual direction and retreats and nursed and cared for the frail aged.

In 1995 the Archdiocese of Brisbane commissioned a Shrine to Mary MacKillop in St Stephen’s Chapel. Mary MacKillop had worshipped at this church, the oldest Catholic Church in Brisbane. In 2009 the Archbishop announced Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop as the Patroness of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. The Canonisation of Mary MacKillop was celebrated in every diocese of Queensland and in November 2010 the Premier hosted a state reception in recognition of the significant contribution made by St Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the areas of education, church and civic participation throughout Queensland.


Page last updated June 2016