For newly professed Sr Josephine Mitchell, her first teaching post in 1954 was in the small community of Burringbar located in the top eastern corner of NSW.
“It took over 24 hours to get there on the train from Sydney,” says Josephine, now aged in her 90s.
“It was a dairy farming and banana plantation area. There were a lot of migrants who had moved to the area post-WW2. I first went to teach sixth class to Intermediate level – I was only 22 years of age myself. We had about 30 children in all the classes and I still get cards from ex-students every year.
“Many of the children would be late to school as they were working in the dairy or on the family banana plantation. They would turn up at 10 am and I would ask ‘where have you been’ and they would say “picking and packing sister”.
“A child was never turned away from one of our schools. I remember a young boy who came to the Woodburn school after being expelled from the local state school. He was a real loner. It used to rain a lot and the Richmond River was near the school. When the rain was heavy, the children used to have their lunch on the verandah which was very close to the river. On one occasion, this boy got up and began to entertain the children who gave him a great clap. He was accepted by the group and became one of them. From that day his behaviour changed and he started to learn.”
After seven years at Burringbar and two at Woodburn, Sr Josephine was invited by the leaders of the Congregation to attend university and train as a secondary school teacher.
“I moved to Queensland in 1962 and started secondary teacher education at the university in Brisbane,” continues Sr Josephine.
“After graduating I started teaching at St Joseph’s High School, Kogarah. From there, I moved to Hunters Hill where I taught the young postulants at St Joseph’s for about six years. I then went to Fairfield to teach Year 9. About three quarters into the year, I received a letter from the Mother General, then Mother Denis, who invited me to work at the Teacher Training College in North Sydney. This was a whole new level of education and a new challenge.
“The College had grown from the Josephite Training College and was now becoming part of the newly formed Catholic College of Advanced Education, which then went on to become the Australian Catholic University. In those early years, I used to lecture 200 students at a time in religious education.
“We were very well trained as primary teachers. Mary MacKillop herself was very keen on teacher training and so continual learning was a large part of our development. In the early days we would be posted to these little towns and communities, then at Christmas we would come back to a central place and have a retreat, often in North Sydney or at the Provincial House in Glen Innes, but also to take part in teacher training workshops and formation programmes.
“Following my years lecturing at the Catholic College of Education and spending 12 years in Administration in the Josephite Congregation, I had the great privilege of establishing in 1994 the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies in Timor-Leste for the development of literacy and teacher education.
“Each step of the journey has been a challenge and a wonderful experience of the transforming power of good education.”
Sr Josephine Mitchell rsj
New South Wales