Holy Trinity Church, Westbury in Tasmania.

Friday 24 May 2024 marks 150 years since Holy Trinity Church, Westbury (Tasmania) was opened. It also marks 137 years since five Sisters of Saint Joseph were warmly welcomed into the village, having been invited by the parish priest to set up a Catholic school.

Fr Ben, Sr Val and parishioners after Mass at Westbury.

Sisters Francis, Stanislaus, Patrick, Joseph, and Teresa brought with them a deep love for God and a passion for mission and have been followed by other Sisters whose Josephite way of living the Gospel has been marked by compassion, courage, justice, dignity and an ‘at homeness’ among the people with whom they lived and ministered.

Father Julian Tenison Woods, the homilist at the church opening in 1874, had hoped that the Sisters would come to Tasmania one day, and the fact that they have had an unbroken presence since 1887, has fulfilled his dream.

The Sisters have contributed to the life of the town in many ways. They taught in the school until 1971, including in the curriculum such practical crafts as fancy work for girls and woodcarving for boys. Many children enjoyed music and singing lessons and were part of bands and concerts. Irish Sisters kept alive Irish songs and dances, including maypole dancing. There was always the friendly rivalry of ANZAC sports!

The Sisters have been very much part of parish life over the years, from tending to the church and leading the parishioners in singing and answering the Mass in Latin and English, to more recent involvement in catechetics and pastoral care across the region.

Several families from the Westbury area have close connections the Sisters of Saint Joseph, having had daughters join the congregation. Sister Val Becker, the current Sister in residence, grew up in Westbury, was educated at Holy Trinity School and returned to minister in her hometown 50 years after she left. In her words:

“Gratitude” is the word which springs to mind about my returning to Westbury. I have a very clear memory of where I was when asked by a member of the Regional Leadership Team would I like to live in Westbury – my immediate response was YES!
I feel very much at home among the people of Meander Valley. I belong to a welcoming Parish Community and am involved with many Parish activities. I am a member of the local Meander Valley Choir (we meet each week) and this is a further outreach to the local community. My roots are grounded in Westbury and, as a Sister of Saint Joseph, I am grateful for all who have blessed my life with love, friendship and support.Sr Val Becker

The Tasmanian Sisters of Saint Joseph have marked many 24 May anniversaries with Mass at Holy Trinity Church including 100 years in 1987 and 125 years in 2012. This latter occasion also celebrated the reconnection of our Tasmanian group with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. On these special days, the common elements have been the huge numbers in attendance, the wonderful sharing of memories and the cold, wet weather! Such weather makes one realise how hard life must have been for the first Sisters back in 1887 and how much the warmth of their welcome must have been appreciated. That same warmth is still appreciated in 2024. Times may have changed but the Sisters continue to value the Westbury community, working together in so many ways for the good of all.

Meander Valley Parish will celebrate this Westbury milestone with a programme similar to that of 150 years ago – Mass, dinner at the hotel, and an evening of music.

Sr Carmel Jones and Sr Val Becker