The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart are a religious order of women, originally founded in South Australia in 1866, by Sister Mary MacKillop. They ran a number of children's homes in New South Wales as well as Catholic schools, throughout New South Wales. They also ministered to Catholic children in migrant camps and settlements, conducted missions at state schools, and trained Catholic teachers.
The first congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph was established in a number of gold rush towns in the Bathurst area in 1872, following a direct approach by Bishop Matthew Quinn to Sister MacKillop. By 1876 however, Sister MacKillop had withdrawn the Sisters, dissatisfied with Bishop Quinn's views on authority within the diocese. The Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph set up operations in Queensland around the same time, but withdrew in 1879.
In late 1879 the Sisters of St Joseph returned to New South Wales, in the Sydney Archdiocese and in the Armidale Diocese, to help maintain the Catholic education system, which was threatened by the withdrawal of government funding to religious schools under the 1880 Public Instruction Act. They began work in 1880 at denominational schools in Penrith, South Creek (St Marys), Lithgow and Wallerawang, Cooranbong, Dapto, Picton, and Tenterfield and Inverell.
The House of Providence ('The Providence') was the Sisters of St Joseph's first project in the Sydney Archdiocese and began in Gloucester Street in The Rocks in March 1880. It was a shelter for neglected and destitute children, old women and vulnerable young girls and also was a Novitiate, for training nuns and the Provincialate office.
When Sister Mary MacKillop was expelled from the Adelaide Diocese in 1883 she went to Sydney. Dean Kenny, retired pastor of the North Sydney parish, donated his house, 'Alma Cottage', in Mount Street North Sydney, to the Sisters for use as a Novitiate. By May 1884 Mary MacKillop had moved in and acquired surrounding properties, designating them as the Mother House of the Institute. She built a substantial convent, which still stands.
Mary MacKillop ordered the Sisters of St Joseph into Provinces, each under the leadership of a Provincial. In 1889 Armidale was named as a separate province from Sydney. In 1925, they were named Armidale-Lismore and Sydney-Goulburn. By 1969 there were four provinces: Armidale-Lismore, Canberra-Goulburn/Wilcannia-Forbes, Sydney South (including Wollongong) and Sydney North. In 1983, New South Wales became one province, with the Province Centre located at Croydon.
The North Sydney Convent is now called Mary MacKillop Place, in honour of Mother Mary MacKillop, who died there in 1909 and was buried nearby. In 2008 Mary MacKillop was canonised by the Catholic Church and became Saint Mary of the Cross. The complex at North Sydney is a place of pilgrimage, as well as serving as a museum, place of pastoral care, education centre and conference facility. In 2012 the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Joseph were also located there.
The Sisters of St Joseph arranged informal adoptions from their orphanages. According to Sister Kathleen Burford, couples adopting were obliged to sign a contract, agreeing to observe certain conditions. The orphanage staff visited the children in their new homes to ensure they were properly cared for, and if they found a breach of contract, would reclaim the child.
Sources used to compile this entry: Burford, Kathleen E. RSJ, Unfurrowed Fields: A Josephite Story NSW 1872-1972, 1991, 287 pp; Sisters of St Joseph, 'Letter from Sisters of St Joseph regarding location of records [Correspondence, Item 6]', in Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices: Submissions received by the Committee, 25 August 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/submissions; Thinee, Kristy and Bradford, Tracy, Connecting Kin: Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their records [completed in 1998], New South Wales Department of Community Services, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998, https://clan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/connectkin_guide.pdf.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 9 March 2011, Last modified: 19 November 2013