Memories from the past: Sisters of Charity

21 May 2021

Above: St Vincent’s College, Potts Point c 1952. Courtesy of the Congregational Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Australia

On 31 December 1838, five Sisters of Charity arrived in Sydney from Ireland, the first women Religious in Australia.

Mary Aikenhead, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity sent the Sisters at the request of Bishop Polding who desired a community of Sisters to work with the convict women.

The first five Sisters were Sr M John Cahill, Sr M John Baptist de Lacy, Sr M Francis de Sales O’Brien, Sr M Lawrence Cater and Sr M Francis Xavier Williams.

Before moving to Parramatta to commence their work at the Female Factory, the Sisters visited schools in the city and ministered to the sick and poor.

On 26 November 1839, Sr M John Cahill and Sr M John Baptist de Lacy left Parramatta and moved into a small cottage at Waverley where they visited the nearby Roman Catholic
Orphan School and assisted in the education of the children.

They also visited several schools in the city, instructing children in singing, sewing and lacemaking as well as conducting a Sunday School, where they provided religious instruction. In 1847, three of the Pioneer Sisters
established a community in Hobart at the invitation of Bishop Robert Willson.

Along with their work at the Cascades Female Factory, the Sisters visited the sick and poor, and provided religious instruction to the girls of St Joseph’s School on the corner of Macquarie
and Harrington Street.

The Sisters exercised general supervision of the girls section of the school, before assuming responsibility of it at the beginning of 1848.

In 1856, Tarmons, (the home of Sir Charles Nicholson) was purchased with the assistance of Catholic benefactors.

Renamed St Vincent’s Convent, it provided the Sisters with a permanent residence, and in the following year St Vincent’s Hospital was established on the same site.

In 1858, the Sisters opened their first school at the Convent; St Vincent’s School had both an infants and primary section.

In 1871, St Vincent’s High School was opened in a separate room of the Convent after the hospital moved to its present site at Darlinghurst.

The growth of the congregation allowed it to take responsibility of several parochial schools in Sydney following the removal of state aid in 1883.

Over the next 36 years more than 20 schools were staffed or established by the Sisters across Sydney and as far away as Bega and Bombala.

This growth later allowed the congregation to establish further foundations in Victoria and Queensland where the Sisters staffed and managed many parochial schools as well as those that they themselves

Many of these schools continued to be staffed by the Sisters of Charity well into the 20th century.

In 2009, Mary Aikenhead Ministries was officially constituted to carry on the work of the Sisters of Charity, ensuring the continuation of their significant contribution to Catholic education in Australia.

St Joseph’s School, Hobart c 1923. Courtesy of the Congregational Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Australia


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