Mary MacKillop 1869.

We commemorate the 150th anniversary of when Mary MacKillop received the revised Constitutions of the Institute (Sisters of Saint Joseph) in Rome on 21 April 1874.

In October 1867, Fr Julian Tenison Woods drafted the original Rules of the Institute of St Joseph, with the subtitle, for the Catholic Education of Poor Children. This was approved By Bishop L B Sheil, Bishop of Adelaide on 17 December 1868.

After a few years when the group of Sisters had increased, it was recognised that this initial document needed to be revised. Fr Woods wrote to Mary on 24 January 1873:

Now all these objections and other circumstances make me most anxious that we should get the Rule approved without much delay, and I don’t see how this can be done without your going to Rome… Rome will approve of our Rule, I think, with some few changes such as we ourselves would wish. It will be done better by you than by anyone else.

Mary wrote to the Sisters on 25 March 1873:

I am going to Rome, to the feet of our Holy Father, there to implore his sanction for our holy Rule. It was our dear Father Director who first proposed that I should go.

When Mary arrived in Rome and presented the draft Rule, it was found that it did not cover all that was required in such a document. A Dominican priest, Fr Bianchi, was asked to revise it to meet Vatican requirements. This Constitution was given to Mary on 21 April 1874 – it was approved for a trial period with the Sisters.

Mary returned to Australia with postulants from Ireland, arriving in Adelaide on 4 January 1875. The draft Constitutions were shared with the Sisters in the year prior to the First General Chapter held at the Mother House, Kensington, South Australia from 19-23 March 1875. The Minutes of this Chapter record, “Finally the Constitutions were accepted unanimously”.

Constitutions 1972, 2009 and 1986.

Over the years there have been several updates of the Constitution, for example after the 1917 Code of Canon Law was promulgated, the term of office for local superiors was restricted to six consecutive years. After Vatican II there was a complete revision of the Constitutions – in 1972 a green covered draft was shared with Sisters. After wide consultation amongst the Sisters and the approval of the General Chapter, this version received from Rome the approval from the Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes dated 15 August 1986. This version had a maroon plastic cover and also included Traditions and Practices.

In order to provide for greater flexibility for the future, Chapter 6 of the 1986 Constitutions was revised to allow for Regions instead of Provinces. The assistance of Fr Frank Morrisey was invaluable in assisting us to achieve the maximum possible flexibility in governance areas. This document received a Decree of approval from Rome on 1 May 2009 and is the brown covered booklet that is still current.

The 27th General Chapter 2019 made the decision to rewrite our Constitutions. A Committee was appointed by our Congregational Leader in 2021 to commence this work. The aim is to provide various drafts to Sisters to consider and make response prior to the 28th General Chapter in 2025.

Sr Sheila McCreanor