MACKILLOP HOUSE, Glenorchy Campus
ST MARY OF THE CROSS MACKILLOP, founder of the Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart
Mary MacKillop, with Fr Julian Tenison Woods, founded the religious congregation, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, in Penola, South Australia, in 1866.
Mary was born on 15 January 1842 of Scottish parents in Fitzroy, Victoria. Mary was the eldest of eight children and was well educated by her Scottish father. From the age of 16, Mary earned her living and supported her family as a governess, a clerk and as a teacher. While governessing for her uncle’s children at Penola, Mary met Father Julian Tenison-Woods who needed help in the religious education of children in the outback. At the time, Mary’s family depended on her income so she was not free to follow her dream. In 1866, greatly inspired and encouraged by Father Woods, Mary opened the first Saint Joseph’s School in a disused stable in Penola. Young women came to join Mary, and so the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart was founded.
In 1867, Fr Woods asked Mary to start a school in Adelaide. She also opened orphanages, cared for the homeless and destitute, both young and old, as well as former prisoners and prostitutes wanting to make a fresh start in life. The congregation grew. In the early 1870’s, after Sisters went to Perthville in the Diocese of Bathurst, the local Bishop changed the charter from one governed by central authority to a diocesan institute. Some Sisters returned to South Australia (to the central group which would become known as the “Brown” Josephites) and some remained (the “Black” Josephites – under the guidance of their co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods and the local bishop). It was from Perthville that Sisters came to Westbury, Tasmania, on 24 May 1887. On 24 May 2012, 125 years later, the Tasmanian Sisters “fused” with their congregation of origin, in an historic and moving ceremony, at Westbury. At some stage, a split developed in the MacKillop-Woods relationship that never really healed.
Throughout her life Mary suffered ill health. She died on 8 August 1909 in the convent in Mount Street, North Sydney, where her tomb is now a place of pilgrimage. Mary was beatified by St Pope John Paul II in Sydney on 19 January 1995 and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on 17 October 2010. Her feast day is 8 August. Now recognised as a patroness of Australia by the Catholic Church, she is this country’s first canonised saint.
From those beginnings in South Australia, the congregation spread throughout Australia and New Zealand and more recently to Peru, Timor Leste and the refugee camps of Uganda and Thailand. Throughout the congregation’s history, the Sisters have worked with the ‘little ones of God’ in big cities and in bush huts, with the homeless, new migrants, Aboriginal peoples, the lonely and unwanted, in direct care and through advocacy. Education, in its many forms, has always been central to the mission
Links with GYC:
the then SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH (Tasmania) is a founding congregation of GYC
MACKILLOP HOUSE (Glenorchy Campus)
SACRED HEART COLLEGE, New Town, founded by the Sisters of St Joseph, is one of GYC’s Association Colleges.
MACKILLOP CATHOLIC COLLEGE, Mornington, founded in 1994, was named in her honour and is one of GYC’s Association Colleges.
A Josephite Sister was a member of staff, initially of the then MacKillop College and later at GYC in their early years.
This great Australian woman she stands as a wonderful example of courage and trust in God’s love and compassion as she cared for those in need. Her life calls GYC to reverence the human dignity of others and to change unjust structures.