Julian Tenison Woods: A Life – Chapters 5th to 8th

Chapters 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th

Mary MacKillop, 1871

On 7th January 1857, Mr Woods was ordained priest by Bishop Murphy in St Patrick’s Church, West Terrace, Adelaide, S.A.

Before the month was ended, the Bishop decided to give the young priest a very important duty – the establishment of a permanent Catholic Mission in the South Eastern portion of South Australia – appointing him to the charge of a district that included an area of over 22,000 square miles.  He was to be the only Catholic priest in that wide expanse of country, which is included between the River Murray on the North and West, the boundary of Victoria on the East, and the Southern Ocean.

His residence and headquarters were to be at Penola, the most central spot in the large district over which he was placed; and in turn, he would visit Mount Gambier, Robe (or Guichen Bay), &c.

It was a serious undertaking [in] the first month of his priesthood, and must be considered a mark of the great confidence his Bishop reposed in him; and which events proved was not misplaced…

With the blessing of the Bishop and the best wishes of all who knew him, Father Woods left Adelaide in Lent, and after a stormy passage arrived at Guichen Bay…

The good people of Penola gave their new pastor a warm welcome…

[Bishop Murphy] advised Father Woods to set about getting a new church instead of ‘patching up an old house’… Father Woods … set about carrying into execution the Bishop’s wishes, the generous people of the district supplying the means… But it was some months before the building could be arranged for, or masons be ready to commence their work.  However, the zealous priest found plenty of occupation.  One who knew him well says: ‘He was almost constantly in the saddle, riding from place to place, holding missions, visiting the sick and administering the Sacraments.’…

Father Julian Tenison Woods

In some of his long journeys to and from various parts of his extensive mission, Father Woods took time to examine the physical features of the country. In his first half year in the South East, as the district was called, he published several scientific papers, which were read with great interest and attracted considerable attention towards the quiet young priest in his distant bush home.  How he could attend to so many different things and do each well was a wonder…

While busy at his scientific papers, if a sick call came for Father Woods, everything else was forgotten. In a very few minutes, his horse was ready, and he was off with the least possible delay.

He was soon acquainted with everyone in his vast district, and he never failed to make friends by his gentle winning manner. Besides attending to the spiritual wants of the patients for whom he had come, he often assisted in their temporal necessities.  As he spent very little on himself, he was able and always willing to bestow something on the indigent, often indeed to such an extent as to leave himself for a while in very straitened circumstances.  His cheerful disposition made light of inconveniences.

Having spent a night on the Plains, with his saddle for pillow, he wrote: ‘If anyone wants to know what the Egyptians must have suffered, let him go to Australia – it does not matter much where, for the Australian mosquito defies any attempt at sleep – on land.’


This extract is taken from:

Chapters 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th of Julian Tenison Woods: A Life has been used with the kind permission of the Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph 1997 and the publishers, St Paul’s Publications.

If you would like to read the full text, including an informative Introduction, footnotes and an index, this book is available online and from some Mary MacKillop Centres.

For locations and contact details visit the Josephite Books webpage.


Carmel Jones rsj