Australian Bishops Ready for Canonization of Mary MacKillop
ST AUGUSTINE’S College - $2 million primary building, the Mary MacKillop Centre.
Josephite book "compelling reading"
On Wednesday December 2nd ‘From Humble Beginnings’, the story of the Josephite Sisters in Victoria, was launched at Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre in East Melbourne by Josephine Cafagna. Josephine, the popular presenter of State Line, was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph in both primary and secondary school.
Guests, seated outdoors in front of the historic building, recalled 120 years of story. The book was launched from the veranda of the 1902 House of Providence designed by Mary MacKillop. Mary knew this area well; she was born ‘just around the corner’ in Brunswick Street Fitzroy.
The story of Mary MacKillop’s childhood, youth and young adulthood in the Colony is of course well known. The story of her return to central Victoria in 1890 accompanying three Sisters who were to set up the first St Joseph’s Convent in the Colony, and of her subsequent involvement in the rapid development of further openings in Victoria makes for compelling reading.
Mary and the Sisters arrived in Numurkah on January 12th 1890, in the blistering heat of a drought: day after day the temperature reached ‘more than 100 degrees in the shade’. Mary wrote, ‘…a humble beginning for a great work…’ A few weeks later Mother Bernard, then the Congregational Leader, accompanied three more Sisters to establish the second convent and school in Bacchus Marsh.
The world-wide depression of the 1890s had hit Melbourne particularly hard; land prices collapsed and the inner city was a place of destitution and despair. Though the first foundations were for rural schools, within months Archbishop Carr urged the Sisters to assist the newly founded Home for Destitute Children in rural Surrey Hills.
By May 21st 1890 the Sisters were at Surrey Hills, by 1893 the home was so overcrowded that children sometimes slept three to a bed; lacking chairs in the dining room they ate meals standing. The Sisters ate in a corrugated iron shed. Mary guided the home at Surrey Hills through its precarious beginnings: she travelled the countryside seeking donations for the needs of the children in the Home, while visiting children who were placed in foster care.
The Archbishop’s next request was for Sisters to work in the notorious neighbourhood of Little Lonsdale Street. He wrote, ‘Only by living in the area could much good be done.’ He feared that the Sisters would object, but Mary replied that this was ‘where the real work lies’. In October 1891 Mary, accompanied by Sister Gertrude Hayman, moved to 43-45 Latrobe Street. They set up a shelter for homeless young women and a night school for children; they managed a soup kitchen and distribution of food and clothing in the back yard. They called this venture, which once more depended completely on donations, St Joseph’s Providence. There were no grants or project funds; the Sisters prayed that God would provide for them through the generosity of Melbourne people.
Thus began the Victorian chapter of the Josephite story. The Sisters responded to Victorian need while the challenges of Victoria, particularly among the poorest people, shaped and re-shaped their spirit. The book traces the story of the Sisters through the decades: the World Wars and their aftermath, the Great Depression, the population growth in the western suburbs and the Latrobe Valley, the soldier settlement blocks, the influx of migrants to the schools and parishes, the contacts with Aboriginal Australians.
Jill Barnard, the author of this history, is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and of Master of Arts in Public History at Monash University; Jill has worked as a professional historian for almost 20 years. Her research has led her into varied areas of Victoria’s history and her published works include Welcome and Farewell: The Story of Station Pier with Sonia Jennings and Holding on to Hope: A History of the Founding Agencies of MacKillop Family Services co-authored with Karen Twigg.
The result is a hard covered book of 220 pages, historically rigorous, illustrated with more than 100 photographs, and attractively designed. During refreshments after the launch Jill signed copies of the book; some were sold boxed and ready for mailing, some were sold wrapped ready for Christmas giving.
Jill said, ‘It has been my aim in this history not only to coax out the Josephite spirit as it was expressed in Victoria but also to portray as far as possible the Sisters as individual women’.
See also FORMIDABLE WOMEN, HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
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