Josephite Sisters celebrate 150 years

By Matthew Biddle

SISTERS of St Joseph from around the Archdiocese gathered on March 19, the feast of St Joseph, for a special Mass to celebrate 150 years since the founding of their Order.

Fittingly, the Mass was celebrated at St Joseph’s Church in O’Connor, with a crowd of about 300 people joining 30 Sisters for the occasion.

Several symbols representing the history of the Josephites were placed near the sanctuary prior to Mass. They included five candles, representing the five Sisters who arrived in Goulburn in August 1882.

Items recalling the legacies of the Order’s founders were also present – wood from the coffin of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop; a statue of Our Lady held by Fr Julian Tenison Woods during his final moments on earth; as well as a breviary and ritual that he used.

Congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ, who was unable to be present for the occasion, sent her greetings via a letter, which was read out at the start of the Mass.

In the letter, Sr Monica recalled the beginnings of the Josephites 150 years ago.

“One hundred and fifty years ago Mary and Fr Julian listened to the heartbeat of the world of their time,” she wrote.

“They saw a need and were led by God to respond to the misery and wretchedness of the bush children and the afflicted poor to undertake urgently needed works of charity for which no other religious were available.”

Several Josephite Sisters prepare to cut the anniversary cake. PHOTO: LOUI SESELJA

Several Josephite Sisters prepare to cut the anniversary cake. PHOTO: LOUI SESELJA

Today, Sr Monica said, the Sisters of St Joseph continue to respond to the urgent needs of the time, by responding to the pleas of children in detention centres and refugee camps; endeavouring to address the health and educational needs of Indigenous Australians; and providing educational opportunities in Timor Leste and Peru.

Additionally, the Sisters attend to the experience of grief and loss among children; they stand alongside people in rural communities as they struggle with natural disasters; and often the Sisters are simply a “listening ear as people share their wonders and heartaches in the midst of daily life”.

“Josephites from all walks of life continue to be a hand of hope in so many situations today,” she wrote.

“As we look back and see what our good God has done for us through the lives and ministries of the Sisters of St Joseph over 150 years, let us give thanks. May our hearts be filled with joy as we celebrate this gift to our Church and to our world.”

Archbishop Christopher Prowse was the main celebrant of the Mass, assisted by 10 priests from around the Archdiocese.

During his homily, the Archbishop said St Mary of the Cross MacKillop was a type of Abrahamic figure, placed before us as a sign of hope and faith.

“She has given us a marvelous example, here in Australia and now universally, about what faith means in our time and our place,” he said.

He also reflected upon the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, who he described as a “man of many talents”.

The Archbishop also referred to a letter written by Fr Woods in which he stated that: “Our highest ambition was only to find fuel for the burning heart of our Blessed Lord”.

“One hundred and fifty years later, those expressions are still full of Gospel fervour and Abrahamic faith,” Archbishop Christopher said.

“We thank the Lord for the sesquicentenary of the Penola establishment of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. I want to thank, as the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, particularly the Josephites for their unbelievable contribution in this Archdiocese over the years.

“Let us pray that the Josephites’ influence be shared continually in Australia for many, many years to come and also internationally.”