St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, accompanied by five companions, arrived in Brisbane from Adelaide on 31 December 1869.
Bishop James Quinn had invited the Sisters to offer Catholic education to the children of the working class and the poor in his Diocese. In mid-January 1870 the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart were teaching in St Mary’s School in South Brisbane and by June they had opened three more schools, two in Brisbane and one in the rural township of Maryborough. During the next ten years they established fifteen schools and an orphanage, and were teaching almost half the number of children attending Catholic schools in Queensland. These ten years, however, were marred by a controversy. Bishop Quinn did not approve of the Josephite style of governance which left the administration of the institute with the Sisters themselves rather than with the Diocesan Bishop. This culminated in his decision that the Sisters leave his diocese. In mid July 1880, the last community left and were welcomed to the Dioceses of Sydney and Armidale in New South Wales.
In 1900, the Josephites returned to Queensland to the newly formed Diocese of Rockhampton. In a letter to all the Sisters written in September 1890 when an invitation to return was first issued, Mary MacKillop shared her joy: “I am glad to think that the Sisters will be back in dear old Queensland once more.” In August 1915 when the Archbishop of Brisbane invited the Josephites to return and open parish schools across the Archdiocese, Mary MacKillop who had died in 1909, was not alive to share the joy of the Sisters, especially those who had left in the 1879. Between 1916 and 1984, the Josephites opened over fifty parish schools across the state. When the Queensland government in 1963 opened secondary education to all children who passed Scholarship, an exam at the end of primary school, the Josephites established five parish secondary schools and opened the Josephite Mary MacKillop College now part of the Archdiocesan Catholic Education System.
Over five hundred Sisters of Saint Joseph have devoted their lives to Josephite ministry in Queensland. Besides teaching in schools and private music centres, the Sisters have taught faith education to children in state schools, worked in partnership with our indigenous brothers and sisters, and cared for mothers and families in need. They have cooked for children in outback boarding schools, served as pastoral assistants in parishes, visited the prisoners in the gaols and offered counselling to those in need and offered care to the frail aged in a hostel and nursing home.
In 1995, the Archdiocese of Brisbane erected a shrine to Mary MacKillop in St Stephen’s Chapel where Mary MacKillop had worshipped during her time in Brisbane. Four years later Mary MacKillop was declared the patroness of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. The Canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in Rome in 2010 was celebrated in every diocese of Queensland and in November the Premier hosted a state reception in recognition of the significant contribution made by Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the areas of education, church and civic participation throughout Queensland.
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