Birth of Julian Tenison Woods

15 November 1832

Julian Edmund Tenison Woods, co-founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, is born at West Square in Southwark, England to James Dominick Woods and Henrietta St Eloy Tenison.

Click here to learn more about Julian’s birth.

Read about the early life of Julian here.

Birth of Mary MacKillop

15 January 1842

Mary MacKillop, co-founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, is born in Brunswick St, Fitzroy, Melbourne to Scottish immigrants Alexander and Flora MacKillop.

Read more about the birth of Mary MacKillop here.

Mary MacKillop’s Story—Beginnings

15 January 1842

The Beginning of the Sisters of Saint Joseph

19 March 1866

Penola Stable

Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods open their first school in a stable in the South Australian town of Penola, on the feast of St Joseph, marking the beginning of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Read about why Fr Julian, aided by Mary MacKillop founded the Josephites here.

First Rule of the Order

11 May 1867

Fr Julian draws up the first Rule of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Mary MacKillop writes to her mother Flora on 14 May 1867:

“I have such an earnest longing for the Order of St Joseph and know well how hard it will be to get it established here, but everything God blesses will prosper and surely His blessing attends this holy Order; non other is so fitted for the wants of this Colony.”

Click here to read about the first steps toward the foundation of the Order.

From Penola to Adelaide

21 June 1867

Fr Julian, now Director of Catholic Education in South Australia, invites Mary MacKillop to move to Adelaide to open schools and assist with teacher training.

Mary leaves Penola for Adelaide with Sr Rose Cunningham. Upon arrival, the first convent-cottage opens in Grote Street, Adelaide.

On 2 July 1867, Mary and Sr Rose begin teaching at the first Adelaide Josephite school, operating in St Francis Xavier’s Hall next to the Cathedral in Wakefield Street.

Click here to read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in South Australia.

Mary MacKillop’s Story—Growth

1 August 1867

The Sisters arrive in Queensland

31 December 1869

Mary MacKillop, accompanied by five sisters, arrives in Brisbane from Adelaide after being invited by the Bishop of Brisbane to establish a foundation in Queensland.

Click here to read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Queensland.

Mary MacKillop’s Story—Challenges

4 January 1871

Mary MacKillop’s Excommunication

22 September 1871

In early 1871, tension builds between Bishop Laurence Sheil, Fr Julian Tenison Woods and some priests who were determined to destroy the fledgling Sisters of Saint Joseph. The priests presented a submission to Bishop Sheil highly critical of the Sisters and Fr Julian. Mary writes to the Bishop explaining her position.

On 22 September, at the Franklin Street Chapel in Adelaide, South Australia, Mary is excommunicated from the Church by Bishop Sheil, with many sisters being expelled.

Five months later, on 23 February 1872, a very ill and sorrowful Bishop Sheil removes the excommunication of Mary, admitting he was misled by bad advisers. He dies on 1 March 1872.

The sisters are restored to their habits on 19 March.

The reasons for Mary’s excommunication can be read here.

The First Foundation in New South Wales

16 July 1872

A community of sisters establish the first Josephite Foundation in New South Wales at The Vale (later renamed Perthville) near Bathurst.

On this day, three sisters and a young postulant moved into the sacristy of the small slab church.

This foundation led to a branch of Sisters that became a Diocesan Congregation, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop.

This would lead to the other foundations at Lochinvar (NSW), Whanganui (ANZ), Tasmania and Goulburn (NSW). They became known as the ‘Black Josephites’ because of the colour of their habit.

Click here to read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in New South Wales.

Mary MacKillop Leaves for Rome and Meets Pope Pius IX

28 March 1873

Mary travels to Rome dressed as a widow under the name of her mother, seeking approval of the Rule written by Fr Julian. This was to establish secure foundations for the Congregation.

Mary had the support of Fr Anderledy SJ who helped translate documents and was also her spiritual advisor.

On 1 June 1873, Mary had a personal audience with Pope Pius IX. He insisted that one change would have to happen—the emphasis on poverty not be so extreme and that the Sisters would need to acquire property for financial security.

This sadly led to a rift between Mary and Fr Julian Tenison Woods, who was afraid of the implications it would have on the strict poverty he held so dear.

Constitutions and Central Government of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Approved

21 April 1874

Mary MacKillop’s Constitutions of Institute and Central Government are accepted during her time in Europe.

During the two years Mary was waiting for approval of the Constitutions, she travels to Scotland to visit family and visits France, England and Ireland.

On 24 December, Mary returns to Victoria, Australia with 15 Irish postulants.

Sisters arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand

24 April 1880

Arrival of first four Sisters of Saint Joseph in Whanganui from Perthville, New South Wales. The parish priest Fr Kirk who had met Fr Julian Tenison Woods in Sydney, convinced Bishop Redwood to arrange the sisters to come.

The sisters were to take over a primary school from lay teachers and establish a girls’ secondary school with boarders.

Read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Aotearoa New Zealand here.

Troubles in Adelaide and arrival in Sydney

10 July 1883

An unofficial Commission of Enquiry is established by Bishop Reynolds in Adelaide to investigate the Institute in South Australia. He writes a highly critical letter, expelling Mary MacKillop from Adelaide on 13 November.

Mary is exiled from Adelaide by Bishop Reynolds. False accusations were made against her and this coupled with his poor administration skills led to her dismissal. Mary and a small group of sisters left Adelaide for Sydney.

After banishment from Adelaide, Mary settles in Sydney.

New Novitiate at North Sydney, New South Wales

19 March 1884

A retired priest, Dean John Kelly, offers his North Sydney home, Alma Cottage, to Mary MacKillop to be used as a Novitiate.

Mary wrote:

“A dear benefactor, a good priest, is giving his own home to serve as a future Novitiate. It is beautifully situated, so retired and quiet, and is to be our own property.” 

The site quickly develops into the Mother House of the congregation, and the Novitiate and Teacher Training School are established there.

The new Novitiate opens on 19 March.

The Sisters Arrive in Tasmania

24 May 1887

Five sisters of Saint Joseph arrive in Tasmania and establish the First Tasmanian Foundation in Westbury. The sisters begin with eight students, growing to over 100 within six months.

Read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Tasmania by clicking here.

The Sisters Arrive in Western Australia

20 October 1887

Four sisters arrive in Perth at the invitation of Bishop Matthew Gibney, to establish the first foundation in the copper mining town of Northampton, Western Australia, around 500 kilometres north of Perth. Bishop Gibney’s opposition to the congregation’s central government resulted in all but three sisters leaving within three years. Those who remained became ‘Black Josephites’ under diocesan governance.

Read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Western Australia by clicking here.

First Victorian Foundation Established

20 January 1889

St Mary's church, Williamstown

Mary MacKillop returns to her state of origin to establish the first Victorian foundation at Numurkah. Further schools, houses of hospitality for destitute women, and other charitable works soon follow through Mary’s efforts as “beggar in chief”.

Read more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Victoria by clicking here.

Death of Fr Julian Tenison Woods

7 October 1889

In May 1887, Fr Julian Tenison Woods’ health begins to seriously deteriorate. He returns to Sydney, where he is cared for by a group of women led by Gertrude Abbott, at 561 Elizabeth Street, before his death at the age of 56.

Clothed in the Passionist habit, he was buried from St Mary’s Cathedral on 9 October 1889 with 30 Sisters of Saint Joseph attending. Members of the scientific community also attended his requiem and later erected a monument over his grave at Waverley Cemetery.

Read more about Fr Julian’s death here.

Mary MacKillop’s Story—Fulfillment

19 March 1891

Growth in Victoria

1 January 1901

At the request of Archbishop Thomas Carr, Mary MacKillop buys land in Albert St, East Melbourne for the erection of a new permanent “Providence” providing a home for women and children. The facility doubles as a Province Centre until 1910.

Amalgamation of Wilcannia Sisters with Central Congregation

2 December 1902

The diocesan Sisters of Saint Joseph in Wilcannia, far western NSW, suffer isolation, extreme hardship and the deaths of two young sisters in the 1890s—Sr Ambrose Sullivan (pictured) and Sr Aloysius Kelly. Among other difficulties these events prompt them to amalgamate with North Sydney Josephites, the ‘Central’ Congregation.

Read more about the amalgamation here.

Death of Mary MacKillop

8 August 1909

Mary MacKillop passes away in her bed on the ground floor of Alma Cottage in Mount Street, North Sydney.

Mary’s old friend Sr Annette said:

“There was no struggles at her death. As we said prayers, her lips used to move in unison. She was conscious up to the moment of her death and was able to press my hand, the blessed candle was in her hand all the time.”

Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran, who administered the Last Rites to Mary, said:

“I consider this day to have assisted at the deathbed of a saint.”

On 11 August, the Requiem Mass is celebrated at St Mary’s Catholic Church, North Sydney with the burial at Gore Hill Cemetery.

Western Australian Sisters Amalgamate with Central Congregation

1 November 1912

The newly appointed Bishop Clune of Perth oversees the amalgamation of the isolated Boulder sisters with the main congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Read more about the amalgamation here.

Sisters from Goulburn and Perthville Embark on Papua New Guinea Mission

28 February 1965

On 13 January 1967, Perthville Foundation sisters arrive in Suain.

As well as teaching in the school, the sisters visited families in the villages, assisted in the medical clinic and trekked through jungle and across rivers to visit the mission outstations for catechetics and pastoral visitation.

Read more about the Sisters in Papua New Guinea here.

Josephite Federation Approved

28 July 1967

Though originating from the same founders, the various foundations of diocesan Sisters of Saint Joseph differed in significant ways from the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart administered centrally from North Sydney.

The prospect of federation was raised at various points throughout the early 20th century, but did not gain traction among the disparate groups until the Second Vatican Council.

The approval of the Josephite Federation came in the form of a Decree of Establishment from the Sacred Congregation of Religious given in Rome on 28 July 1967, in response to the request made by the Congregations of the Sisters of Saint Joseph situated in Perthville, Diocese of Bathurst; Goulburn, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn; Lochinvar, Diocese of Maitland; New Town, Archdiocese of Hobart and Whanganui, Archdiocese of Wellington, for the establishment of a Federation.

Read more about the Josephite Federation here.

Pope Paul VI visits the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel

2 December 1970

Pope Paul VI visits the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney. He addresses Major Superiors of Religious Orders in the Chapel on the subject of Christian Education.

He gives the Sisters of Saint Joseph the gift of a statue of the Madonna and Child.

Establishment of Peru Foundation

1 April 1981

Sisters Elaine Walker, Edith Prince, Dorothy Stevenson and Ursula Hoile, each from a different province of the Congregation, arrive in Lima, Peru. They begin in a rented apartment with no running water and minister in “mass centres” in the slums. Their ministry spreads to other Peruvian cities and attracts the first Peruvian Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Click here to learn more about the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Peru.

Martyrdom of Sr Irene McCormack

21 May 1991

Sr Irene McCormack is martyred in Huasahuasi, Peru, by Shining Path terrorists. She is shot alongside Noe Palacios Blancos, Agustín Vento Morales, Pedro Pando Llanos and Alfredo Morales Torres, joining many dozens of priests, religious and laypeople murdered during the “Years of Terror”.

Read about the life and martyrdom of Sr Irene here.

The Sisters’ Mission in Brazil Begins

1 December 1992

Sr Johanna de Bont’s ministry at the Diocese of Garanhuns, Pernambuco in north-eastern Brazil, marks the Sisters’ first presence in Brazil.

Click here to learn more about the Sisters in Brazil.

Beatification of Mary MacKillop

19 January 1995

Pope John Paul II beatifies Mary in a ceremony taking place in Randwick, Sydney, and visits the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel in North Sydney to pray at Mary’s tomb.

Click here to read a reflection about Mary’s beatification.

Mary MacKillop’s Story—Canonisation

19 January 1995

Mary MacKillop Place Opens

26 March 1995

Necessary renovations and upgrades prompt the total renovation of the Mother House site at North Sydney. After extensive works and the establishment of a world-class museum, Mary MacKillop Place opens for the spiritual benefit of thousands of yearly visitors.

Read more about the opening of Mary MacKillop Place here.

Pope Benedict XVI Prays at Mary MacKillop’s Tomb

17 July 2008

Pope Benedict XVI visits the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel and prays at the tomb of Mary, during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day.

He gives the Sisters the gift of a small statue of St Joseph. The Sisters in turn present the Holy Father with a bust of Mary, a copy of which is in the Memorial Chapel today. Pope Benedict XVI remarks that “she’s smiling”.

During his World Youth Day reflections on Mary MacKillop, the Holy Father remarks that, “Mary MacKillop’s perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated and her practical example of holiness have became a source of inspiration for all”.

Canonisation of Mary MacKillop

17 October 2010

Kathleen Evans’ miraculous recovery from cancer in 2003 provides the second of two miracles necessary for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.

Pope Benedict XVI proclaims Mary a canonical saint of the universal church, and Australia’s first canonised saint, saying:

“She dedicated herself as a young woman to the education of the poor in the difficult and demanding terrain of rural Australia, inspiring other women to join her in the first women’s community of religious sisters of that country.  She attended to the needs of each young person entrusted to her, without regard for station or wealth, providing both intellectual and spiritual formation.”

Read more about Mary MacKillop’s canonisation here.

Fusion of Congregations

19 March 2012

Over three years between 2012 – 2014, four foundations of the Sisters of Saint Joseph fused with the central congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. These were the Sisters of Saint Joseph Tasmania; the Sisters of Saint Joseph Goulburn, NSW; the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Nazareth from Whanganui, Aotearoa New Zealand; and the Sisters of Saint Joseph Perthville, NSW.

The Sisters Celebrate their Sesquicentenary

19 March 2016

The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart celebrate their sesquicentenary (150 years anniversary).

A script of the video message from Congregational Leader Monica Cavanagh rsj is available here.

10th Anniversary of Canonisation Celebrations

10th Anniversary of Canonisation Celebrations

17 October 2020

The Sisters of Saint Joseph celebrate the wonderful life and inspirational legacy of St Mary MacKillop on the 10th anniversary of her canonisation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebrations take place mainly online, with the theme of Take Fresh Courage drawing on a saying of St Mary. Thousands tune in for the online ‘Courage Hour’.

Videos, prayer resources and other material from the celebration may be downloaded here.

Year of St Joseph

8 December 2020

In honour of the 150th anniversary of St Joseph being named as patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis announced a Year of St Joseph (8 December 2020 – 8 December 2021).

With St Joseph as the patron of the Congregation, during the Year of St Joseph, the Sisters of Saint Joseph marked each of its primary feasts with special prayers and celebrations.

Videos, prayer resources and other material from the celebration may be downloaded here.