A New Year’s Eve to Remember

The passengers on the steam ship The City of Brisbane checked their watches as the ship passed the lighthouse on Cape Moreton.

Lighthouse on Cape Moreton

It was almost ten o’clock on the night of Friday 31 December 1869. It had been a rough passage up the coast from Sydney so there was a sense of relief knowing that soon the ship would dock in Brisbane the capital city of the colony of Queensland. Among the passengers were seven women, listed as ‘Sisters of Mercy (Order of Saint Joseph)’. All were in their twenties, four had been born in Australia, two were migrants from Ireland and one from London. Five were experienced school teachers and two were trainee teachers. They had been invited by Bishop James Quinn to open parish schools in his diocese.

Before midnight the glow from the gas street lights of Brisbane was visible and the ship slide in beside the wharf near Market Street. Dr Cani, representing the bishop greeted each of the party as they stepped ashore. Bystanders, who had read in the Brisbane’s Courier of the arrival of some nuns, glanced curiously at the newcomers. They noticed that these women were dressed differently from the Sisters of Mercy. Over a brown dress the newcomers wore a white cotton cloak. Their heads were covered by a waist length brown veil somewhat like a bonnet. Two of the party were dressed differently. One wore black and the other the fashion of the day.

The priest, an Italian, directed the group to a horse drawn carriage and after a short ride they arrived at All Hallows, the two storey stone convent of the Sisters of Mercy. He introduced the new arrivals to Mother Brigid, the superior of the Sisters of Mercy. After greetings, the Josephites were offered refreshments and the Sisters of Mercy then led the new arrivals to their sleeping quarters on the second floor. It was fortunate that a dormitory, vacated by the girl boarders who were on their annual holidays, was available for use. With grateful hearts and a prayer of gratitude for a safe journey, Mary MacKillop and her companions prepared to rest.

Sleeping in a dormitory was not new to the Sisters of Saint Joseph, but the heat, the humidity and the buzzing of the mosquitoes was a new experience, one that did not aid sleep. It had been a long journey from Adelaide and having to ask for money to pay the fare from one capital city to the next had not been easy. In Sydney Archbishop Polding, some priests and nuns regarded their coming to Queensland as a ‘foolish venture’. They warned the Josephites that they were rushing into troubles the like of which they were ignorant. What difficulties lay ahead?

The new day dawned, Mary MacKillop and her companions welcomed the new year and settled into their surroundings. Whatever the future unfolded, God’s love would be their comfort and bolster their courage.

Sr Margaret McKenna

Image source: Photo of Moreton Island Lighthouse by Behzad K [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.