Amalgamation of WA Sisters with North Sydney 1912.

Boulder sisters 1915

On 1 November 1912 a special ceremony took place at the Boulder Convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph on the goldfields of Western Australia.

In the presence of Bishop Clune of Perth the 26 professed sisters of this isolated diocesan group renewed their vows making their commitment to be united with the main congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. This amalgamation meant that these sisters were now supported and managed as part of the centralized institute rather than being dependent on the local bishop. As part of this change, they took to wearing the brown habit rather than the black habit of their diocesan group that had them known as “Black Josephites.”

This was a momentous day for the Boulder sisters that comprised 6 Australian born sisters, 20 Irish born sisters and one Irish born postulant. The Sisters of St John of God based in nearby Kalgoorlie came to celebrate with them, while the Sisters of Mercy at Coolgardie, another important goldfield town, sent a letter of congratulations.

Two letters written at the time by members of the Boulder Convent to Mother Baptista Molloy, the Congregational Leader, have survived. These letters are written in a happy, relaxed way and express the excitement of the individuals at being part of this amalgamation. It is known, however, that not all members of this group welcomed the transition to the centralized order.

The first Sisters of Saint Joseph to come to Western Australia had made their foundation at Northampton, a copper mining town located 500 kilometres north of Perth, in December 1887.

As a result of a dispute with Bishop Gibney of Perth, who wished to control the activities of the sisters as a diocesan institute, most members of the small group returned to the Mother House in early 1890. Just one professed sister and two locally born postulants remained to continue their ministry at Northampton.

All Hallows Class 2 c. 1914-16

In the 1890s gold was discovered in the inland desert areas to the east of Perth attracting fortune seekers. In early 1897 the three Sisters of Saint Joseph were sent to the goldrush town of Boulder where they began their teaching ministry. Initially the sisters lived in hessian tents until a wood and iron convent could be built for them.

The goldrush resulted in a great increase in population. Priests, nuns and young religious women willing to take up a missionary life were recruited from Ireland to serve the Catholic population in this faraway place.

The climate on the goldfields was extremely harsh with hot dry summers and wild dust storms. Water was scarce and had to be purchased. The sisters did not have any holidays away from this tough environment. They persevered in their ministry teaching and supporting the local Catholic community.

Following the amalgamation these Boulder pioneers had the opportunity to meet with other Sisters of Saint Joseph. They now gradually moved to take on ministries in other locations in Western Australia and in other states.

Their stories are part of Josephite legend in Western Australia.

Sue Sondalini
WA Archivist