Celebrating the momentous legacy: 140 years of the Sisters of St Joseph at Lochinvar

140 years ago, four courageous young Sisters of St Joseph embarked on a momentous journey from Perthville near Bathurst to Lochinvar. Traveling by train, boat and horse-drawn carriage, they had a noble mission – to bring a quality Catholic education to children living in the remote parts of the Diocese, thereby nurturing their Catholic faith and opening doors for a better quality of life.

Arriving on 2 September 1883, they wasted no time and, the very next day, founded their first school and convent in a former inn, and warmly welcomed their first border soon after.

In the years that followed, the Sisters worked tirelessly, establishing schools and convents across the Diocese. Lochinvar became their ‘mother house’, accommodating more than 200 borders at one point, and that first modest school grew into St Joseph’s College, now a thriving co-educational high school with almost 1000 students.

The Sisters of St Joseph is an Australian congregation founded by Julian Tenison Woods and Australia’s first Saint - Mary of the Cross MacKillop. The Order was born in response to the genuine needs of the communities they served. Embodying the instructions of their founders - ‘never see a need without doing something about it’ - they selflessly embarked on journeys where no religious congregation had ventured before, enduring hardships and harsh conditions as they established new ministries.

“The work, though arduous, was a privilege when one remembers why we were there, to spread the Gospel to children and people out of reach, those who would have been deprived of this opportunity,” said an early Sister of St Joseph, encapsulating the sense of purpose that guided their endeavours.

Beyond the classrooms, the Sisters dedicated their energies to assist people in every way possible. They reached out to the families of their pupils and offered care to the sick in their homes. Preparing children for sacraments, they were instrumental in fostering their spiritual growth.

Central to the Josephite education was instilling a love of music with their students.

“Music elevates the mind and enables it to form grander conceptions of God and holy things,” said Fr Tenison Woods.

The humility and compassion of the Sisters inspired generations of young girls to join the novitiate and continue their mission, leaving an indelible mark on the history of the Diocese.

Over the last 140 years, they established an impressive network of 50 parish primary schools and 10 secondary schools, leaving a legacy of education and service that continues to touch countless lives.

As lay teachers assumed positions in Catholic schools in the 1960s, the Sisters redirected their efforts to adult faith formation, outreach to migrants and refugees, parish pastoral care, spiritual direction, pastoral planning at the diocesan level, and compassionate care for those affected by HIV-AIDS. The Sisters of St Joseph’s impact has been profound.

Reflecting on the early Sisters, Sister Patricia Egan said “they arrived at a significant time when the government had recently withdrawn funding for religious schools.”

“Catholic schools would not have existed up to the 1960s except for the Sisters and Brothers who entered Religious Orders and staffed the schools.”

“The Sisters have always aspired to live the ‘spirit of the institute’ which was exemplified by Mary MacKillop and devotion to St Joseph. Students no doubt followed in the early Sisters’ footsteps because they were inspired by their example.”

Lochinvar holds a special place in the hearts of the Sisters, where more than 270 of their beloved members have found eternal rest, a testament to the enduring impact of their dedication and service.

On Saturday, 2 September 2023, the day this edition of Aurora is released, the 59 Sisters of St Joseph still living, will celebrate their 140 year anniversary in Lochinvar.

It will be marked by Mass at St Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Charlestown during which the jubilees of profession of some Sisters will be celebrated - a joyous occasion to honour their years of devoted service.

Additionally, on Monday, 4 September, the Sisters and the community of St Joseph’s College Lochinvar will come together to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving, including the ringing of the school bell – one ring for each year of service.

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