Children at St Joseph’s Eugowra with Sr Alice and Sr Maureen
Sisters with students at St Edward’s School, Canowindra holding the framed picture of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods
Sr Alice and Sr Maureen visiting St John’s primary school in Baradine, NSW

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in NSW, members of the Perthville Convent Heritage Committee have been visiting schools in the Bathurst Diocese founded by the Congregation.

The primary schools were very interested in re-connecting with their Josephite charism. Sr Alice Sullivan and Sr Maureen Sanderson were the anchor in the tour and were joined at different schools by Committee members, Mrs. Margaret Smith and Mrs. Pam Haddin and two others, Sisters Ann Morrison and Virginia McGrath.

The schools visited included Blayney, Molong, Eugowra, Gulgong, Coonabarabran, Canowindra, Portland, Gilgandra, Oberon, Dunedoo, Coolah, Baradine, Manildra, Yeoval, Lithgow, and the Assumption School at West Bathurst.

Of those schools, 11 have been established for more than 100 years. There were 60 convent and school foundations founded from Perthville (near Bathurst). Lithgow was founded by Mary MacKillop in 1908 and she actually signed the deeds of the Lithgow Convent herself – a fact not previously known to the staff.

“Sr Maureen and I received a great welcome everywhere we visited,” says Sr Alice.

“We were grateful to have the “MacKillop” book written in both English and Vietnamese by Sr Joanne Linh Le. In the various parishes where we have priests from Vietnam the students are keen to hear the story read by them in Vietnamese as well.”

With the blessing and assistance from the Catholic Education Office in Bathurst, the Sisters were able to provide each school with a USB stick with the MacKillop book able to be put on the large screen for all to see, while the book was read to them.

“Wonderful conversations followed the telling of the story,” continues Sr Alice. “Copies of the two books were given to the school libraries. We also prepared activity handouts for the students in the different grades – a gift welcomed by the teachers.”

From the Perthville Archives, Sr Maureen provided a history of each of the schools. Children were asked to compare facilities of their schools today with the conditions of the earlier schools that were established for the poorer children. In some instances, Sisters were invited to begin a school but on arrival found no provision for classrooms or accommodation had been made.

“In only four of these towns we visited was there a custom-built Convent on arrival. Classes were frequently held in churches or on verandahs. Some schools operated only briefly because of the fluidity of the situation with the miners on the gold fields and the construction of the railways.”

The Perthville Sisters had, at the time of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in 2010, gifted each school a framed picture of Mary and Julian Tenison Woods together, with a brief history of each foundation. The Sisters found these pictures prominently displayed in every school.

At St Joseph’s in Eugowra, the Sisters were able to present each child with their own book. These were received with delight since their school, along with the library was decimated in the floods.

“We were able to share some Josephite resources for the staff of each school and these were gratefully received,” says Sr Maureen.

Another venture of the Perthville Convent Heritage Centre committee, as part of the 150-year celebration, was the creation and launch of an app telling the story of the history of the Perthville Sisters. The Sisters were able to provide the QR code (shared below) for each school to access the information and teachers were most grateful.

“There were some real highlights,” says Sr Maureen. “We believe the visits were as important for the staff as the students and the connections that the staff wanted to make with the various Sisters they knew or were related to was a delight. It was lovely to be able to share with the staff our knowledge of some of the Sisters we knew and their influence in the lives of so many people.”

“It was a joy to experience the interest and enthusiasm of the students and staff as they engaged with their school’s history and the Josephite spirit that is their legacy,” says Sr Alice.

“The email received from St Patrick’s School, Lithgow summed up their appreciation: Thank you for teaching us about the incredible works of Mary MacKillop.  We all loved how you clearly explained the interesting life of Mary Mackillop in a fun, yet effective way to all students. Every school invited us to return and asked if we might do something more about Fr Woods next time!  We look forward to future visits.”

Sr Alice Sullivan and Sr Maureen Sanderson 

Scan the QR Code to visit the Bathurst – Step Beyond App featuring the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Perthville.