Sister Hyacinth Quinlan.

Sister Hyacinth Quinlan died at New Town, Tasmania on 9 September 1933, and was laid to rest at Cornelian Bay Cemetery on the banks of the Derwent River. Hyacinth’s death was recorded in many newspapers throughout Australia, under the heading “A Meritorious Career.”[1] Newspaper articles noted that she was one of the last surviving links to the original foundation in South Australia.

Bridget (Hyacinth) Quinlan was of Irish descent, born in the Clare Valley on 20 August 1850.[2] Hyacinth joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph at the Franklin Street Convent, Adelaide in August 1868. Her sister Ellen, Sister Michael, joined the congregation a year later. Hyacinth remained within the congregation during the time of Mary’s excommunication, whereas Michael returned to her family during this period.

Hyacinth was a member of the founding community at The Vale in the Bathurst diocese in 1872. In 1876, she was pressured by Bishop Mathew Quinn to remain in the Bathurst diocese to train the Irish novices after Mary MacKillop withdrew the Sisters over issues regarding central government. Hyacinth acquiesced to Quinn’s demands and decided to remain ensuring a continuing Josephite presence in the diocese.

Having renewed her vows according to the new Constitutions, her action estranged her from Mary MacKillop and her original community. Hyacinth was 26 when she became leader of the remnant of the Josephites in the Bathurst diocese. Her separation from the original foundation was to last her lifetime.

Hyacinth was responsible for the foundation at Whanganui in New Zealand in 1880, where she again encountered difficulties with the hierarchy. Dean Kirk sought to interfere in the congregation but despite the difficulties there, she successfully established the congregation. She was forced to accept the name of the congregation as Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth, and the change to a black habit. Hyacinth remained steadfast in her application of the original rule, ensuring the diocesan Josephites maintained the spirit of the original foundation.

Concluding her leadership, she moved to Hawera and eventually sought permission to transfer to Tasmania, explaining to Archbishop Redwood that she wished to be an ordinary Josephite as having been in a leadership role, this was a great challenge for her. The archbishop concurred.[3] In May 1891 Hyacinth moved to Westbury Tasmania where she lived her dream to be an “ordinary Sister of Saint Joseph” until she was appointed Sister Guardian by Archbishop Delaney in 1905 and was subsequently elected unanimously by the Tasmanian Sisters in 1911.

As Sister Guardian in collaboration with the archbishop, Hyacinth oversaw the establishment of the motherhouse, novitiate, and training school for sisters in Hobart at New Town. It was in Tasmania that Hyacinth received the acknowledgement and affirmation from her religious sisters and from the hierarchy which had eluded her in her previous dioceses of Bathurst and Wellington, New Zealand.

Hyacinth’s legacy was to hand down faithfully a tradition that she received.  Her contemporaries in Tasmania saw the mature Hyacinth in her role of Superior, displaying “wisdom and care” as one who, “endeared herself to the Sisters by her gentleness and motherly interest in their welfare”.[4]

The Tasmanian Sisters’ perception of her as, “the calmest and most level-headed religious I’ve known… her charity in speech was a striking trait” shows her depth of maturity gained over her six decades of religious life with all its challenges and disappointments.[5]

In Hyacinth’s own words in reflecting on the past with the separation and estrangement that occurred: “I have kept no notes, and the number of years I have had to go over are many… The whole thing is like a vast tragedy to me”.[6]

On her death, Hyacinth was acknowledged as a great pioneer Josephite well beyond the shores of Tasmania. Ninety years later, we give thanks for her commitment which enabled her to overcome many challenges both personal and ecclesial to enable five diocesan groups to flourish.

Jo Brady rsj


[1] OBITUARY (1933, October 13). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA: 1889 – 1954), p. 18. Retrieved August 19, 2023, from
[2] South Australian Register of Births 1842- 1867 29/40
[3] Letter, F. Redwood to H. Quinlan February 7, 1891. Whanganui Sisters of Saint Joseph Archives (WSSJA)
[4] Sr Stanislaus Doyle cited in “Diamond Jubilee at New Town.” Eriksen, Erik Olaf, 1944- (1995).  Diamond jubilee at New Town, Sister M. Hyacinth 60 years professed: a link with Fr. Julian Woods.  [E.O. Eriksen], Canberra, A.C.T
[5] Letter, M. Wright, to M. Xavier, May 2, 1958. WSSJA.
[6] Letter, H. Quinlan to M. Xavier, August 28, 1926. WSSJA.