You’re invited to read a speech by Helen Duke rsj delivered at St Mary MacKillop School, Wallaroo, South Australia – Australia’s longest continuing Josephite School 1869-2019.

Bishop Greg O’Kelly with Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods

Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity to say a few words on this special occasion, your sesquicentenary. Wallaroo was very familiar to Mary MacKillop, her footprints would be all over this town that she visited often, trudging up from the wharf and later from the railway station to visit her Sisters and their students.

From about 1865 until the arrival of the first resident Parish Priest, Father William Kennedy in 1867, a small Catholic School operated in this town. Father Kennedy immediately closed this school and refused to reopen it until he had the newly formed Sisters of Saint Joseph in his parish.

Father Julian Woods and Mary MacKillop established the Sisters of Saint Joseph for the catholic education of children from poor families in response to Bishop Geoghegan’s strong request that every parish have a catholic school. He wrote:

Pastors! Parents! Catholics! … What can we do? … Remember that the work [of Catholic education] is God’s … and that it will bear delay no longer. Let us begin for God’s sake. Wherever there is a Pastor and a Flock we implore you to make a commencement of a Catholic school. Let each do what he can. Bishop Geoghegan 1860
Initially, Mary and Fr Julian worked together to establish the “Sisters of St Joseph for the Catholic Education of children from poor families” [1] but they soon realised that poor families had many other needs besides education for their children. Therefore, in the Sisters’ new Rule of Life Fr Julian wrote:
Their duty is to do all the good they can and never to see an evil (need) without seeing how they might remedy it, and thus to take a most lively interest in every external work of charity in the gaols, poor houses and hospitals, so as to leave nothing untried, no matter how difficult, provided it might advance the glory of God, the good of souls and the prevention of sin in the world. This is their mission… and the religious must do any good they can and make their charity all-embracing. [2]Fr Julian Tenison Woods 1867
Even though the Sisters were involved in so much charitable work, teaching was always their main work. Mary wrote:
The Sisters have to teach the children of the poor. These poor are for the most part emigrants from the British Isles, or other parts of Europe, or the children of such who have settled in scattered bands all over the colonies. [3]Mary MacKillop 1873
South Australian Sisters of Saint Joseph

So it was that in 1869, Sisters Catherine O’Brien, aged 23 years, and Margaret O’Loughlin, aged 18 years, set off by steamer for the Port of Wallaroo.

Whenever I think of Wallaroo, I have an image of a resilient community with, a resilience that has sustained all involved in this school over the past 150 years. There was certainly little else in this poor mining town on which to draw resources, or inspiration…

Continue reading Helen’s speech below:

St Mary MacKillop School Wallaroo Speech (PDF)

Helen Duke rsj

[1]  That was the title of the Rule of Life he wrote for them in 1867
[2]  Rule, Article 13
[3]  Mary MacKillop from London, 1873.

Photos provided by Helen Duke rsj. Used with permission.