Twenty-five years ago, we first kept up St Joseph's Day as the special Feast of our proposed Institute and little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning. (Mary to the Sisters, 25 March 1891)
The date was March 1866. The place was Penola. The other person was Julian Woods. On that day, there was one school established in a stable and one Sister of St Joseph, Mary herself.
What could they have dreamt about the future of their Congregation on that day and what actually eventuated?
By June 1867, both Julian and Mary had moved to Adelaide. Three women had joined Mary as Sisters.
Four years later, 127 Sisters were teaching in 43 schools and managing four charitable institutions.
Numbers increased. They made foundations in Queensland in 1869, New South Wales in 1872, New Zealand in 1880, Tasmania and Western Australia in 1887, and Victoria in 1889. More than 600 Josephites mourned Mary’s passing in 1909.
Teaching was always the Sisters’ main work. To prepare them for this, Mary established a practice school at Mount Street, North Sydney in 1900.
By 1920, education was compulsory in Australia and the school leaving age had been raised to fourteen. Consequently, State Governments set up State High Schools and the Josephites felt constrained to enrol junior secondary students. Over time, this change necessitated their undertaking tertiary studies.
Music teaching became a part of the Josephite way of life in 1890.
In February 1927, they opened a Juniorate in Adelaide and later that year, four Sisters left Australia to establish a Juniorate at Newmarket in Ireland.
From the time of their foundation, the Sisters reached out to children without access to Catholic schools by accepting them into their convents as boarders.
In 1927 came the first Bushy School in Western Australia. These were followed by the South Australian Summer Schools and, in 1956, the Archbishop of Adelaide invited the Sisters to establish a Motor Mission and take religious instruction into state schools in areas without Catholic schools. In New South Wales they established a Correspondence School for Religious Instruction and several Sisters were involved in the writing and distribution of this material.
During the 1960s came the Kimberley and Papua New Guinea missions. Since then, Sisters have gone to minister in Peru and Brazil in South America. At about the turn of the century, they became involved in a ministry to the people of East Timor.
Over time, many Sisters have been involved in a ministry to urban Aborigines as well as those living in remote areas. Some assist trafficked women, refugees and asylum seekers.
During the 1990s, they made an Irish foundation to enable Irish-born Sisters to spend their final years in their home country. At about the same time, two Sisters settled in Fort William in Scotland.
Over time, individual Sisters have ministered briefly in countries including Cambodia, China, Pakistan, Senegal, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda.
St Joseph's Refuge, Fullarton
In their charitable institutions, the Sisters have cared for disadvantaged people of all ages, including women in need of protection, babies, orphans and the aged. Some Sisters with nursing skills undertook the care of Sisters in convent infirmaries,while, in 1937, Gertrude Abbott left them St Margaret’s Maternity Hospital, Darlinghurst. Subsequently, some Sisters became midwives.
Today, they minister to many people in a wide variety of places and circumstances, always conscious of Julian Woods’ dictum that they:
do all the good they can and never see an evil without trying how they may remedy it. … This is their mission, for though the Institute has its peculiar (particular) duties, the religious must do any good that they can, and make their charity all-embracing. (Woods, Rules for the Institute of St Joseph, 1867, par. 13.)
Page last updated May 2016