Pilgrims in the Chapel at St Joseph’s Spirituality and Education Centre, Kincumber South.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a group of parishioners from Morpeth (in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese) and lead them on a pilgrimage In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop at St Joseph’s Spirituality and Education Centre, Kincumber South situated on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph have maintained a significant link to Kincumber since Mary MacKillop and the Sisters first established this site as a home for boys in 1887.

Mary MacKillop described the foundation of the home in these words:

This, St Joseph’s Orphanage for Boys, is an offshoot of another most deserving charity known as St Joseph’s Providence. The Providence was established in Sydney in 1880, since which time it has afforded home and shelter to hundreds of deserving poor, both young and old.
As the number of children increased (a great proportion being boys), it was deemed advisable to establish an Orphanage for the older boys.
At this juncture, Cardinal Moran, with his large fatherly heart, came to the aid of the cause and offered the presbytery and grounds at Kincumber, Brisbane Water, as a suitable place for the Boys Orphanage. Need it be said that the offer was most gratefully accepted, and that since then the Institution has rapidly increased in every way…
Mary MacKillop

From its beginnings, Mary MacKillop maintained a strong connection with the orphanage, overseeing and arranging the financing of its building programs, concern for establishing a regular water supply but above all ensuring a love for the boys at the home.

We began the pilgrimage with prayer in the historic church of Holy Cross opened in 1842, the year of Mary MacKillop’s birth. This sacred site has been a Kincumber South landmark for over 180 years. We lit a candle as we acknowledged the Darkunjung people and remembered Mary MacKillop who prayed in this church on many occasions when visiting the orphanage.

As we walked to different parts of the site, we recalled stories of Mary MacKillop’s interactions and time at Kincumber. For example, at the adjoining church cemetery, we prayed at the graves of some of the young boys who unfortunately died here and listened to one story of Mary’s visit to Kincumber.

On 21 April 1899 Mother Mary received word that one of the boys from Kincumber Orphanage, Philip O’Brien, was close to death. He had made a request to see Mother Mary. She was in Sydney, so she caught the first available steam train to Woy Woy. The boys were to meet her at the wharf and row her (three miles) across the Brisbane Waters.  Their reward was the sweets Mary carried in her pocket! However, the weather had turned foul. It was a terrible trip… the howling wind and driving rain making the crossing difficult. She was drenched by the rain… she knew Philip needed her, so the weather wouldn’t stop her. On entering Philip’s room she heard a weak voice say, ‘I knew you would come, Mother Mary’. Mary stayed with Philip until he died in the early hours of the morning and then attended to his funeral arrangements as there was no priest available. Unnamed Sister, 1925

The pilgrims reflected on their insights into Mary MacKillop revealed by this story. They also considered when they might have responded to someone in great need.

The site of the original wharf was our next focus. In the 1880s, Kincumber was isolated with the only access by water. We paused to reflect on Mary’s willingness to take risks, to venture into the unknown, her openness to new projects regardless of the personal cost. And the question for the pilgrim was: How open are you to new possibilities?

Mother went on administrative business (to Kincumber) but always with bags of bread and meat. On one occasion a little boy came crying: ‘Please Mother, Sr Anthony sent me to tell you that I stole a loaf of bread’. ‘Were you hungry, child?,’ she responded: ‘if so, go back and steal another’.Sr Patricia Campbell, 1925

In 1900, a new L-shaped brick building, consisting of a school hall, dormitories, refectory and bathrooms, was built along Humphreys Road at considerable cost to the Congregation. Since then, the ministry to children, families and carers grew and evolved as the needs of the changing times dictated.

In more recent years, the site has become a place of peace and continuing education and formation for thousands of visitors, retreatants, staff groups and pilgrims. The spirit of the Josephite charism still reaches out and touches the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life and all ages.

Being in the midst of such beauty one can see the face of the Creator, continually offering to all who come the invitation to make a difference in the world – a world hungering for refreshment of spirit, mind and body.

God is so evident in this holy place.

Lyn Raftery rsj

School building