The death of Sister Teresa McDonald at The Vale (Perthville) on 13 January 1876 brought to an end the life of a remarkable Sister of St Joseph.
Born Margaret McDonald in Scotland in 1838, she immigrated to Australia as a child. After a short time in Perth, her parents moved to Adelaide. Ten years later, in 1867, she joined the newly-founded Sisters of St Joseph.
Prior to Mary MacKillop’s departure with the Queensland foundation in December 1869, Teresa was appointed Provincial of South Australia. For the next fifteen months she coped with an increasingly difficult situation in Adelaide—the deception and disruption caused by the ‘visionaries’, the anti-Josephite feeling among some of the priests, the deterioration of her own health and the stance taken by Father Tenison Woods who ignored her authority as Provincial.
Following the return of Mary MacKillop to Adelaide, Teresa was appointed Little Sister at the Mother House. Thus she was present when Bishop Sheil excommunicated Mary MacKillop courageously kneeling beside the Sister Guardian in a gesture of loyalty and solidarity.
Following the excommunication when some 20 of the Sisters moved into the house provided by Emmanuel Solomon, Mary chose Teresa as their Little Sister. Later she took charge of the novices at Norwood. It was during those years that Teresa made a vital contribution to the Institute by holding the Sisters together during a time of uncertainty and hardship and laying a solid foundation for the future.
Teresa’s next mission was to take her far from Adelaide. Both Father Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop judged that she would be the ideal Sister to lead the foundation to The Vale—a small village in the diocese of Bathurst, New South Wales—where Bishop Matthew Quinn had invited the Josephites to establish a convent and take over the existing school. The founding community arrived there in July 1872. For the next three and a half years Teresa struggled with poor health and the bishop’s constant manoeuvring to take over governance of the Sisters in the diocese. During that time she not only firmly established the foundation at The Vale, but four other convents in the diocese. She was only 37 years of age when she died at The Vale. Two days later she was buried next to the convent.
Teresa’s short years as a Sister of St Joseph were eventful and demanding. At first she was somewhat overcome by the particular demands of her position of Provincial, but she gradually came into her own well able to meet difficult situations with wisdom and courage. And in the midst of that she coped with the constant breakdown of her health.
Remembered by her Sisters as a gentle, kindly and compassionate woman, Teresa never faltered in her loyalty to Mary MacKillop. She was indeed an outstanding woman and a remarkable Sister of St Joseph.
Perhaps the most fitting tribute to her was written by Mary MacKillop to Father Tenison Woods on 19 September 1872: