The Arrival of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Queensland

Molly Molloy stood among the customers in Toppin’s Bakery in South Brisbane waiting to purchase two loaves of bread.

‘View of Brisbane’ Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM1108473

She listened to the conversation of those who were also waiting to be served. Someone asked when the new teachers for St Mary’s School would arrive. Mrs Cunningham shared that Father Cani said on Sunday last that the Sisters of Saint Joseph were on their way from Sydney. The conversation continued noting that Bishop Quinn had invited these nuns to teach in St Mary School and that they would stay with the Sisters of Mercy across the river until they rented a house in South Brisbane. Customers received their purchases and left the shop. Fourteen-year-old Molly Molloy wondered what the new nuns would be like. Some said that they were coming from the colony of South Australia and were Colonials, not from Ireland like the Sisters of Mercy.

Carrying her loaves of fresh bread, she stepped onto the footpath just as nine-year-old Paddy Murphy, pretending to ride a horse, skipped by. He was in the same grade at St Mary’s school as Molly’s sister Maggie. Miss O’Meara, their teacher, had told them that they would have new teachers after the Christmas holidays. Paddy stopped and asked: “Have the new teachers arrived yet?” Molly shook her head. “Aw” he sighed: “They’ll have to come soon. Saturday is New Year’s Day.” Pretending to arouse his horse Paddy galloped off.

When Molly arrived home, Maggie, her sister aged ten was helping in the kitchen and singing an Irish song “Miss Snowflake had a party”. Molly laughed and put the loaves into the cupboard. Maggie stopped singing and asked, “Did anyone say when the new teachers were arriving?’ Molly shook her head. Mrs Molloy stopped stirring the saucepan of soup and said, “They’ll come in time for school, so you had better practice good manners.” Maggie pulled a face and rolled her eyes. At that moment Mary Slattery and her mother called from the front veranda: “Can we come in?”

Mrs Molloy put a lid on the saucepan and said: “Let’s sit on the veranda where there’s a breeze. It’s so hot today.” The two women sat and talked. The children stayed in the kitchen. Molly and Mary were friends and Maggie was happy to join in the conversation. The Molloy and the Slattery families knew one another well. They had sailed from Ireland on the Erin Go Bragh arriving in Brisbane in January 1862 and lived in South Brisbane.

Meanwhile, out at sea the City of Brisbane and its passengers, Mary MacKillop and six companions, listed in the Brisbane Courier as “Sisters of Mercy (Sisters of Saint Joseph)” were coping with rough seas. It was almost ten o’clock on Friday night, 31 December 1869, that the ship rounded Cape Moreton. Within an hour the Sisters of Saint Joseph would step ashore in the Colony of Queensland.

Margaret McKenna rsj

Image: ‘View of Brisbane’ Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM1108473. Used with permission.