The Compassion of Father Woods

Father Julian Tenison Woods.

Perhaps because of the circumstances in which Julian Tenison Woods constantly found himself, he developed throughout his life a deep sense of compassion for those in need of any kind.

Losing his mother at an early age, his long road to priesthood and subsequent rejection by Bishops, his separation from the Sisters and his broken friendship with Mary MacKillop could have made him a rather bitter man.

Yet his own deep sense of God evoked in him a compassion towards those who lived on the edges of the society of the time — whether in remote rural areas, Indigenous peoples, or those who had not had opportunities for education whom he met as Parish Priest in Penola.

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The Two Mothers of Julian Tenison Woods

Grave of Julian Tenison Woods located at Waverley Cemetery NSW.

Julian Tenison Woods had a dream at age six of a heavenly mother. At age 15 he suffered the death of his earthly mother.

These two mothers held a special place in Julian’s life: Mary, whom he described as “my darling, sweet mother”, and Henrietta Marie St Eloy Tenison, his quiet, gentle and kindly mother whose life ended at age 46, in 1847.

The death of his mother was a profound loss for Julian.

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A Fair Go

Julian Tenison Woods, 1866.

The Christian belief is that all people are equal in God’s sight.

The Christian concept of love of neighbour is starkly different from the self-seeking competitiveness we often find in today’s world. Jesus identified with the poor and marginalised people, whereas current society often highlights the rich and powerful for adulation. Jesus advocated for a society of justice, freedom and peace. It was this type of society, this concept of love of neighbour, of fairness and justice, that Julian Tenison Woods lived and promoted.

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St Joseph – Fr Julian’s Example and Guide

In his last circular to the Sisters of Saint Joseph two years before his death, Fr Julian Tenison Woods affectionately reminded the sisters about what was essential for their Josephite lives.

Julian exhorts the sisters to follow the example of their patron, St Joseph.

We are to try to teach [others] by the example of St Joseph, the prince of God’s house and one of the greatest saints who was amongst the poorest of men and completely hidden. With Mary and Jesus he reformed the world, not by talk and display but by virtue and prayer. We are his children and our vocation is to follow in his footsteps and leave the result to God.Julian Tenison Woods, Circular to the Sisters, 4 September 1887

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Julian Tenison Woods: A Life – Chapters 27th to 35th

Chapters 27th to 35th

There was great joy among the Sisters in Brisbane when, on 5th January [1872] their dear Father Founder arrived; yet they were saddened by his worn and haggard appearance.….The following day, he began a retreat for the Sisters, which occupied five days….[1]

The Holy See commissioned two prelates to enquire into the controversies that had arisen [in Adelaide.…It now became necessary for Father Woods to return to Adelaide and he left Sydney on the 8th of June … after an absence of eleven months… [2]

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Julian Tenison Woods: A Life – Chapters 24th, 25th & 26th

Chapters 24th, 25th & 26th

Father Woods wrote to Sister Mary:

Bathurst 19.8.71

Here I am arrived at Bathurst, after a very tiresome journey… The Bishop is most kind, too kind in fact, and has a fine lot of work for me to do…[i]

The correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal says:

…On Friday evening, a most instructive and entertaining lecture was delivered by Father Woods, in aid of the funds of the Reading Room and Circulating Library; and in every sense of the word, it was a brilliant success, both as regards the treatment of the subject, the attendance at the lecture and the financial results.  The Bishop briefly introduced Father Woods as a scholar of more than ordinary geographical acquirements, and a writer on Australian subjects, particularly in connexion with its early history and explorations second to none that has made this particular branch of knowledge the theme of his descriptive powers.  The eloquent eulogium thus prefacing the lecturer’s debut was fully substantiated by the delivery of the lecture itself.

[This notice was] copied into the Irish Harp in Adelaide; and the same issue of the paper, under the heading of ‘Clerical Changes’ announced that the charge of North Adelaide had been transferred from the Rev J.E. T. Woods to another priest.  Another item of news was that the Superioress of St Joseph’s Convent had been excommunicated by the Bishop!  On Father Woods’ return to Sydney, this extraordinary news awaiting him. [ii]

In the Freeman’s Journal of 14th October, there is an article referring to Father Woods’ efforts in behalf of Catholic Education.  The same paper gives a report of the ‘Instructive Lecture delivered’ by him.  It must have been hard to attend to these duties under the circumstances [iii]

The Archbishop, seeing how much his visitor was suffering in mind and body, sent him to Subiaco, forbidding him to interfere in any way with the Adelaide affairs. [iv]

[The Archbishop wrote] … there is plenty to be done in and about Sydney… My opinion is that as soon as you can begin the good work the better.  In alleviating the spiritual miseries of others, your own little troubles will pass away. [v]

The 8th December was spent as he had anticipated in Wollongong… He spent part of the day writing to the Sisters, encouraging them to patience under their trials, which it cannot be denied  were bitter, the continual topic of newspaper criticism, pulpit and conversation….

The articles, telegrams, speeches and conversations on the subject would fill a little volume. How inexpressibly painful it must have been to the tender heart of that singularly gentle and charitable man to read such things, and to know that he was powerless to aid those whom it had been his pleasing duty to assist in every possible way…[vi]

All this time no letter had come from Dr Sheil in answer to those Father Woods had written. One had been received from the Bishop of Bathurst saying that he ‘will give schools immediately to some of the Sisters of St Joseph…but come at once and we will arrange this and other matters.’[vii]

The newspapers continued the comments on the Adelaide affairs.  One informed the public that, as the Sisters had no home at present, ‘Mr Emmanuel Solomon has generously given them a comfortable residence, rent free,’ adding ‘It must be a gratifying reflection to the R. C. Bishop of Adelaide, and a source of the most exalted pride to the Catholics themselves to know that Catholic nuns are now indebted for shelter to the unsolicited benevolence of a Jew.’… These notices were so painful to one ‘who remembered the glories and joys that had been’, and affected him so much that his friends endeavoured to prevent him receiving any papers…[viii]

Dr Quinn received him most kindly at Bathurst, and arranged to take as many of the Sisters as could go to him; and he advised Father Woods – no letter having come from his own Bishop – to go to Brisbane where other Sisters could be sent, the Institute being already established there.  It should be remembered that the Bishops of Bathurst and Brisbane were brothers.   Father Woods acted on this advice… Before leaving, he wrote to Adelaide, asking the Sisters to accept the invitation, arranging about some money matters, and ending thus:

How good God is.  Depend upon it, these trials will open to us a great field.  I don’t doubt that I shall soon be back in South Australia.  I am advised to remain until imperatively ordered back.
But after all, my only trust is in God, and I know our deliverance will come from Him. [ix]


This extract is taken from:

Chapters 24th, 25th & 26th 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



[i] Chapter 24th, p. 155
[ii] Chapter 24th, p. 159
[iii] Chapter 24th, p. 161
[iv] Chapter 25th, p. 165
[v] Chapter 25th, p. 169
[vi] Chapter 26th, p. 175
[vii] Chapter 26th, p. 177
[viii] Chapter 26th, p. 178
[ix] Chapter 26th, p. 179

Birth of Fr Julian Tenison Woods

From Southwark, England to Southport, Tasmania.

On 15 November 1832 in Southwark, England, Henrietta St Eloy Tenison, wife of James Dominick Woods, gave birth to a son, Julian Edmund Tenison Woods.

As in any family the birth of a child is received with great joy and perhaps even wonder at what this child might do with his God given life.

In the decade of the 1830’s the world saw a rise of imperialism and colonialism. Britain saw a surge of power and world dominance. New settlements commenced in 1803 and flourished in Australia. Tasmania’s early history tells of crime, punishment, hardship and survival in some of the harshest, yet most beautiful places on earth. Between 1803 and 1853 approximately 75,000 men, women and children from British and Irish ports were transported to Van Dieman’s Land.

To these people Van Dieman’s Land was the end of the world. The British Government saw it as an ideal place for its most notorious penal colonies. Many penal sites quickly spread throughout the island. It is today difficult to imagine such scenic locations being the site of such hardship and often unjust treatment.

In 1854 Bishop Willson from Van Dieman’s Land, while visiting England, was introduced to Julian who had made several previous attempts at becoming a priest, all of which until now had failed. Bishop Willson suggested that Julian might accompany him back to Hobart Town and be ordained there.

Julian and the newly ordained Father John Fitzpatrick, originally from Tasmania, were listed as Assistant Prison Chaplains for the journey to Tasmania. On arrival in Hobart Town, 1855, Julian worked as chaplain to convicts for a few short months.

On leaving Tasmania Julian spent some time in Melbourne with his brother Edward before moving on to Adelaide where he eventually was ordained a priest. The parish of Penola in South Australia to which Julian was sent covered a huge rural district. Julian saw the needs of his parishioners and the great need of education for their children.

In 1866 Julian with Mary MacKillop founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph to fulfill his dream of education for these poor rural people. In 1874 Fr Julian returned to Tasmania where he made a huge impact preaching missions all over the island. His influence resulted in many young women joining the Sisters of Saint Joseph on the mainland. Two significant Tasmanian entrants to religious life were La Merci Mahoney who became first assistant to Mary MacKillop and Stanislaus Gaffney who became the founders of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

The influence Father Julian had on the Tasmanian Church was substantial. He wrote to Mary MacKillop in 1869 saying:

There is no diocese, however, which wants Sisters so badly as that of Tasmania. I am to see the Bishop of that place today or tomorrow on the subject and whatever I would send Sisters there if I am asked.

It was not however until 1887 that the first Sisters of Saint Joseph arrived in Westbury, Tasmania.

Today Julian Edmund Tenison Woods’ mission-mindedness lives on in the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Josephites Companions. On his birthday, 15 November, we remember with gratitude the influence he had and continues to have on what he called ‘St Joseph’s Isle’ and pray that he continue to influence our lives as we ‘bring what we have’ to our ministry in his footsteps.

Joan Cowmeadow rsj

Julian Tenison Woods: A Life – Chapters 21st, 22nd & 23rd

Chapters 21st, 22nd and 23rd

This year [1870] the schools were not so successful and complaints were many.[i] About this time Father Woods had a sudden attack of illness. The Doctor recommended absolute quiet and rest. But it was not easy to follow this prescription.[ii]

The death of Father Smyth [Vicar General] withdrew a powerful protection from the tantalized Director of Catholic Education.[iii] The Archbishop – there was only one in Australia then – appointed Archdeacon Russell Vicar General, until the will of Dr Sheil could be known. Seeing the debts and difficulties, the acting Vicar forbade Father Woods going on with the improvements at the convent building, tenders for which were already advertised. He also in his official capacity held an investigation at the convent into a mysterious occurrence which had happened there some months before. This was an unspeakably painful matter to all concerned.[iv]  The investigation, though most searching, discovered nothing.[v]

In December [Father Woods wrote] ‘Priests and people seem dead against us, and the most severe things are said’.[vi]

On Thursday 2nd February 1871 the Right Rev Dr Sheil, Lord Bishop of Adelaide [returned to Adelaide]…The Bishop made some changes in the diocese, placing Father Woods in North Adelaide. But the anxiety, the overwork, the many duties which he imposed on himself … proved too great a strain.  His health failed; indeed, some of his friends feared his reason would give way. A change of scene and labour was desirable.[vii]

On 18th May His Lordship found Father Woods very ill and gave him permission to go as soon as possible for a change to the College at Sevenhill. While he was at the College, Bishop Quinn of Bathurst paid a visit there. Dr Quinn invited Father Woods to go to Bathurst in August, and also requested Sisters for Wentworth and Bourke. The Bishop of Adelaide giving permission, Father Woods consented.

Though his stay at Sevenhill benefited his health, the poor priest had too many anxieties to allow him much enjoyment. Money which he had borrowed from the Bank was overdue, and he hurried back to town to face the trouble.[viii]

Dr Sheil sailed for Melbourne. Leaving the boat at MacDonnell Bay, he paid a visit to Mount Gambier, and then went on to Melbourne, en route for Ballarat where he was to preach at the opening of the Cathedral, which he had commenced.

Father Woods, being unable to settle his difficulties, went on with his usual work until the last day of July, when he preached the panegyric of St Ignatius in the Jesuit church at Norwood.[ix]

Within a few days, he received instructions to proceed to Victoria where the Bishop then was. This had already been arranged, as the Bishop of Bathurst expected Father Woods in his diocese, and on his way there he could call at Ballarat.

Yet, as he hastened to obey, he could not shake off the feeling that trouble was at hand.[x]


This extract is taken from:

Chapters 21st, 22nd & 23rd 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


[i] Chapter 21st, p. 136
[ii] Chapter 21st, p. 137
[iii] Chapter 21st, p. 139
[iv] Chapter 22nd, p. 143
[v] Chapter 22nd, p. 145
[vi] Chapter 22nd, p. 147
[vii] Chapter 23rd, p. 151
[viii] Chapter 23rd, p. 152
[ix] Chapter 23rd, p. 153
[x] Chapter 23rd, p. 154