Memories from the past: Saint Mary MacKillop’s contribution to Australian Catholic education

13 Sep 2021

Above: Penola school house in South Australia. Source: ABC South East SA, Bec Whetham

Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop, has had a profound and lasting impact on Catholic education in Australia.

Throughout her life, Mary accomplished great things. Mary began working as a teacher in 1861 in the regional town of Penola, South Australia. Mary met Fr Julian Tenison Woods and in 1866 they founded a school, St Joseph’s in an old stable.

Mary MacKillop circa 1870. Source: State Library of South Australia, B-23825

Both Mary and Fr Woods wanted to ensure all children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds whose families could not afford the costs of schooling, would receive an education.

In 1866, Mary also founded the Sisters of St Joseph, and over time the order took charge of Catholic schools across the district and a number of Josephite schools were founded which offered all children a free education.

Throughout the 19th century, Mary and the Josephite Sisters went on to found schools across South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and New Zealand.

Mary MacKillop has motivated many to live humbly and to assist those in need within the community.

The legacy and work of Mary MacKillop, and the ongoing work of the Sisters of St Joseph, can be seen across the many Catholic schools around Australia founded or inspired by their work.

Mary MacKillop continues to provide inspiration to Catholic leaders, educators and students across Australia who identify with her vision and spirit.

Mary MacKillop College, Kensington South Australia.

Foale rsj, M, Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 2021, Background to the Foundation of the Sisters of St Joseph and the Establishment of the Woods/MacKillop System of Catholic Education, accessed 27 May 2021.

Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 2021, Mary MacKillop’s Story, accessed 27 May 2021.

Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 2021, Our History, accessed 27 May 2021.


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