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Perthville Foundation Day

July 16, 2017

The year was 1872, six years after the Congregation’s beginning, Sisters Teresa McDonald, Joseph Dwyer and Hyacinth Quinlan, along with the aspirant Ada Braham, made their way from Port Adelaide to Sydney by the coastal steamer Rangatira, waved off from the wharf by Mother Mary, Father Julian and a group of sisters.

Some days later the founding group made the eight hour train trip over the mountain to Macquarie Plains. Here they were met by Fr McAuliffe and driven in Bishop Quinn’s travelling coach the remainder of the way to Bathurst where preparations were made for the first foundation of the Sisters of St Joseph in NSW.  It was on July 16, in the middle of winter, that the sisters arrived at The Vale (later renamed Perthville).

Artist impression of the first purpose built Convent at Perthville opened November 1872

What tremendous trust these early sisters exhibited in their dedication, fidelity and discernment of God’s will. They had joined the fledging institute in Adelaide within a year of each other and shared the very early years of struggle as the institute of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart formed its identity. They had shared community life with Mary MacKillop, absorbed her understanding of the rule, taken in her spirit of prayerfulness, were influenced by her spiritual perception and infused by her spirit of charity, poverty and humility.

They imbibed Julian Woods’ enthusiasm and zeal and from him captured the essence of what it meant to be Sisters of St Joseph whose love of God was expressed through prayer and the service of the isolated and the poor.[i]

Our Josephite ancestors were pilgrims, venturing into the unknown, looking with new eyes at the mystery of God unfolding before them, learning from God to see the world and its people with the same loving and compassionate regard that God has for it. This is the love Mary MacKillop suggests the sisters ask St Joseph to obtain for them:

A generous devoted love for Jesus … and a delight in serving him in his poor and his neglected ones.[ii] Mary MacKillop - March 19, 1893

This requires us today - Sisters, Associates and all with a Josephite heart - to allow Jesus to show us God's world with new, compassionate eyes, to hear the cry of the poor, the cry of earth with listening ears and loving hearts.

Mary and Julian and our Perthville founding Sisters Teresa, Joseph and Hyacinth and the aspirant Ada, suffered greatly to follow their vision. They lived the harsh life of colonial Australia; they knew what it was to struggle, to suffer the strain of separated friendships. They committed themselves to the faithful, transforming love of God and embodied God’s love of the poor and little ones.

We who live with a Josephite heart today are similarly invited to be open to God and to God’s mission, embodying God’s passion for humanity, for our earth. We too, are called to the people who are excluded and we do not have to go far to meet these little ones - they are in our neighbourhoods, in our parishes and families.

As we celebrate Perthville Foundation Day, we acclaim these founding women along with the numerous women who have been inspired to walk that way set forward by Julian Woods and Mary MacKillop - the way of simplicity and trust, service and closeness to the ordinary people - to be a sign that God is a God of steadfast love and compassion. 

Sr Therese McGarry

[i] Crowley, Marie Women of the Vale p29
[ii] Mary MacKillop to the Sisters March 19, 1893