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Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia - History


The Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia

On 24 June 1863 the first four Good Shepherd Sisters landed in Melbourne, having travelled from Angers in France at the request of Bishop James Goold of Melbourne.Sisters were needed to help women in distressed circumstances during this period of gold mining and pastoral settlement in the fast growing colony.

From the outset the small band of Sisters faced immense challenges, especially in providing a home for persons in need and obtaining sufficient funding for their works. The pioneer Sisters were provided with temporary accommodation by the Sisters of Mercy, at Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, before taking up a dwelling on the Yarra river at Abbotsford. The house and seven acres of land were seen as ideal for the Sisters' mission, being outside the city yet close enough for daily business.
The first person admitted into care arrived on the 26th of September 1863. This teenage girl was soon joined by other girls and women and within a year 32 persons had been admitted to the home. By the end of 1866, 163 persons were in care at the Abbotsford Convent.
Girls and women in care were accommodated in a number of sections or "classes" located in the northern part of the grounds at Abbotsford Convent. The Sacred Heart Class for older girls and women was founded in 1863 and the St. Joseph's Class for younger girls was established in the following year. In 1865 the Sisters acquired an adjoining 16 acre block and building work proceeded quickly. In 1881 the St. Mary's Class opened - this cared for children and adolescents. A day school for children of the surrounding districts was opened in 1879. This school catered to primary, secondary and commercial students.
The Sisters made every effort to be self-sufficient. They maintained a farm and produce gardens while a commercial laundry provided employment for older girls and women and generated income for the Convent. Funds were raised through events such as annual bazaars, Christmas appeals, charity sermons and the like. The Sisters were helped by many individual benefactors as well as Government.
In 1883 the first expansion from Abbotsford took place with the foundation of a convent at Oakleigh, in Melbourne's South-East. This was a Reformatory School for adolescents.

In 1886 a group of Sisters departed Abbotsford for Christchurch to establish the first New Zealand convent, Mt. Magdala. Further expansion occurred in 1893 with the foundation of the South Melbourne Convent - later known as Albert Park Convent - on Port Phillip Bay and the Mt. Saint Canice Convent at Sandy Bay, Hobart.
The foundation Superior Mother Mary Joseph Doyle died in June 1869, at the age of 34, and other members of the small band of Sisters were sometimes in poor health. The Congregation of the Good Shepherd expanded in Australia thanks to the arrival of more Sisters from Ireland and the enthusiasm of local women to join the Congregation. The first Postulant was received in November 1863 and by the end of the century the number of Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia and New Zealand totalled over 200.
The twentieth century brought further expansion within Australia. In 1902 a contingent of Sisters travelled to Perth in Western Australia and after working for a time in the heart of the city established a convent at Leederville in 1903. In 1902 the present convent building at Abbotsford was opened. A "Worlds Fair" was held in Melbourne in 1901 to help the Sisters fund this building.

St. Aidan's Convent at Bendigo was opened in 1905. This was the only Good Shepherd convent in Australia to care for boys as well as girls and women. The expansion to Ashfield in Sydney during 1913 coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of foundation in Australia.
Convents were established in Brisbane at Mitchelton in 1931, in Melbourne at Boronia in 1938 and in Adelaide at Plympton in 1941. In New Zealand convents were established in Auckland at Waikowhai in 1931 and in 1945 at Te Horo north of Wellington. The Ashfield convent in Sydney expanded to Toongabbie in 1948.
From the mid 20th century the philosophy of protecting vulnerable persons from harm or exploitation within the convent gradually evolved into one of moving outside the walls of the convent to help people in need. The large convents were closed from the mid 1960s. Mt. Magdala in Christchurch New Zealand was the first to close, in 1966. This was followed by Albert Park in 1974, Abbotsford in 1975, Adelaide in 1978, Hobart and Brisbane in 1981, Auckland in 1983, Bendigo in 1984 and Perth in 1986. Over 40 smaller houses were established after 1973 to accommodate Sisters as well as many persons who formerly lived in Good Shepherd care.
In 1936 a small community of Contemplative Sisters established themselves in Christchurch. This group, which is today located at Boronia in Melbourne, drew its membership largely from girls formerly in Good Shepherd care. Originally known as the Magdalens, the Contemplative community is cloistered and their activities include sewing, cooking, painting and gardening. In 1961 the community moved from New Zealand to Oakleigh in Melbourne. The relocation to Boronia took place in 1983.
Pastoral work of the Sisters continues in areas such as prison and hospital chaplaincies, aged care services, support for migrants and refugees, Good Shepherd Trading Circle, and action for social change via Good Shepherd Social Justice Board. Well established agencies (Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services in Victoria, Rosemount in New South Wales and St. Clare's School in Western Australia) carry on the practical work of the Sisters.
Today, as ever, the Sisters are guided by the principles of their mother foundress, Saint Mary Euphrasia. Born July 31, 1796 in Noirmoutier Mary Euphrasia established the new Congregation in Angers, France in 1835. One of her guiding tenets is the belief that "one person is more precious than the whole world".

The Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia and New Zealand have been blessed with outstanding leaders. Sr. Pamela Molony is the present Provincial Leader.

The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd

The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd were formally established in Angers, France in 1831. Their origins are with the Sisters Magdalen established by Sister Mary Euphrasia in 1825. This was an innovative step to establish a contemplative community within the Refuge at Tours. Sister Mary Euphrasia gave the Magdalens a rule of life based on that of Saint Teresa of Avila and the Carmelite Sisters.
In 1964 the Magdalens were renamed Sisters of the Cross. Known in the present era as the Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the sisters offer their prayer and work for the needs of the entire world and in particular way, support the endeavours of the Good Shepherd Congregation. Today there are 697 Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Provinces in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Australia. The Web Site of the Belle River (Canada) contemplative community http://www.mnsi.net/goodshep/contemp.htm contains links to Good Shepherd contemplative communities in North America.

Australia and New Zealand

The first community of Sisters Magdalen in the Province of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand was established in Christchurch, New Zealand in December 1936. This group numbered up to 20 Sisters during the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1961 a community of Sisters Magdalen was established in Melbourne, Victoria. This community, later known as The Sisters of the Cross, was located at the Good Shepherd Convent in Oakleigh. In 1983 the community relocated to Boronia in MelbourneÕs eastern suburbs.
Today a community of Contemplative Sisters is located at 43 Narcissus Avenue, Boronia VIC. The sisters engage in a various activities, including the making of vestments and the decoration of candles. Their life of liturgical prayer and work contributes to the success of the mission of the Good Shepherd Congregation. The contemplative community is sometimes referred to as a "power-house" of prayer.
Website of the Province of Australia/Aotearoa/New Zealand