150 Years of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Education in NSW
This Teacher’s Day (28 October) we come together to say ‘thank you’ and celebrate the contribution, achievements and leadership of teachers. It is an opportunity to take a moment to recognise the impact of educators in all our communities.
Education is a ministry close to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The link goes back to the establishment of the Congregation in 1866, when Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods opened the first Stable School in Penola, South Australia for the purpose of providing a Catholic education for children of families in isolated areas.
Very early in her life Mary saw the need for the education of the poor. It was this perception and foresight which attracted young women to join her, inspired by Mary’s ideal of a Catholic school and a Josephite approach to teaching.
As the Sisters of Saint Joseph Congregation grew, members ventured further afield, often in response to repeated appeals to establish new Catholic schools in the developing regions of Australia.
The first Sisters to arrive in New South Wales 150 years ago came in response to an invitation by Bishop Matthew Quinn who had seen the work of the Sisters in Adelaide. Bishop Quinn asked Mary MacKillop to send Sisters to meet the educational needs in his far-flung Diocese of Bathurst, now a three hour drive west of Sydney.
Within days of the arrival of the first three Sisters to Bathurst, NSW, they were sent to Perthville, a small village 10 miles out of town. The children there were classified, classes were allocated and the Sisters began teaching in the church which was used as a school room as well as a place to pray.
After establishing schools and convents in the Bathurst area, more foundations were established further afield. Within a couple of decades every Diocese in the State had Sisters of Saint Joseph in schools, offering education to local families in remote, rural, coastal and city locations.
The Sisters were motivated always with the conviction they were doing God’s work as women in the Church. They inspired and encouraged each other, especially in isolated places, providing educational opportunities in the Josephite tradition to thousands of young people.
Accommodation was always basic and classrooms often no more than a slab hut. They faced the hardships of rural Australia – drought, floods, visiting snakes and frogs. The number of children attending classes grew and parents would ‘pay’ the Sisters in kindness with a box of vegetables, a batch of scones, a chicken for the Sunday roast, or a billy of milk.
In 1900, Mary built St Joseph’s School for poor children in Mount Street North Sydney. The young Sisters attending the Novitiate in Mount Street could observe Demonstration lessons and could practise teaching. This was the first formal step in teacher training. In 1913, a dedicated Teachers’ Training School was established in North Sydney known as St Joseph’s Training School.
In 1957 the Catholic Teachers College began. This larger institution provided qualifications to Sisters of Saint Joseph and also Religious Sisters from other Congregations who were intending to teach in Catholic primary schools across Australia. In 1958 the College began admitting lay students. The students attended lectures for one year full time and their second year was practical experience with supervision. This completed their teacher training.
This unique emphasis on practical teaching skills and training allowed current teaching methods to be demonstrated and tried by trainees, with the opportunity for appraisal by experienced teachers. Their propensity for class organisation and management was another feature of the training. It involved having an ordered daily programme of routine and a full day’s work timetabled on much the same lines as Mary MacKillop herself had set down in her own ‘Directory’ for schools.
It was this constant interaction between theory and practice throughout the course of training that demonstrated the unique quality of teacher education by the Josephites.
In 1971 the College became the Catholic College of Advanced Education, which then became part of the Australian Catholic University in 1991. It has a campus, scholarships and research programs named in honour of St Mary MacKillop.
You can still see the old ‘schoolhouse’ at the Mount Street, North Sydney site.
We invite you to view photos in the gallery provided below.
Reference: Unfurrowed Fields: A Josephite Story NSW 1872-1972 by Sr Kathleen E. Burford. Copyright 1991.