The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart were founded in Penola, South Australia in 1866 by Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods.

Stable School in Penola

Mary had been working in Penola as a governess when she first met Father Woods. At the time he was trying desperately, but without success, to establish Catholic schools, in response to a request from Bishop Geoghegan of Adelaide, to provide education for Catholic children in the colony.

Their first school was in a building that had previously been a stable.

In June 1867, Father Woods, now Director of Catholic Education in South Australia, invited Mary to move to Adelaide and there the work prospered, and their numbers grew rapidly. Before long they had charge of schools in many parts of the state and were caring for anybody in need, orphans, women in need of protection, prisoners and old people.

The sisters encountered many difficulties in those early years. They faced a major crisis in September 1871 when Bishop Sheil excommunicated Mary from the Church and attempted to disband the fledgling Congregation. Five months later, in February 1872, the excommunication was lifted.

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Kensington 1876

Soon afterwards, Mary and the sisters moved into a house at Kensington, which later became their first official Mother House and the site of their first formal Novitiate. In 1876, Mary had a chapel built there.

During the 1880’s they faced another crisis. Josephite sisters from Queensland moved into the Sydney Archdiocese in 1880 and Mary opened a Novitiate there in 1882. In 1883, Adelaide’s Bishop, Bishop Reynolds who was determined to retain full control of the sisters in his diocese, set up an Apostolic Commission to inquire into congregational affairs. The sisters were put under oath never to reveal what was said at Commission hearings.

At its conclusion, the Bishop banished Mary from Adelaide, and pressured the Sisters to break all ties with her and form themselves into a Diocesan Congregation. The sisters refused and more than 50 sisters moved to Sydney. Despite his cajoling and his threats, the rest remained loyal to Mary and to central governance.

In 1888, when Rome formally approved the Congregation, the Mother House officially moved to Sydney. Josephite houses in South Australia formed the Adelaide and Port Augusta Provinces. After the death of Bishop Reynolds in 1893 they amalgamated to become the South Australian Province.

Over succeeding years, the sisters have carried on their ministries of education and welfare work. In 1927, they opened a Juniorate to educate future Josephites.

In 1931, the first Summer School in Religious Education for children without access to Catholic schools in rural areas, was held in Peterborough.

In 1940, the Adelaide Novitiate closed and all future Josephites went to the Sydney Novitiate.

In 1956, they became the first congregation in Australia to undertake Motor Mission work, travelling long distances to take religious instruction to children attending state schools in both rural and urban areas of South Australia.

In 2013, the South Australian sisters joined with the sisters in Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Timor-Leste, to form the ‘CentreWest Region’ of the Congregation. Today, the sisters continue to live the charism of Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods, and to respond to the needs of the times.


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