J is for Josephites

April 11, 2014 at 11:17 am | Posted in Australia, Family History, History, Religion, Society, Ways of Living | 6 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]


Sisters of SJ logo

In early 1956, Dad bought land by the shore of Lake Illawarra and moved our caravan there. By then we’d been living in the van for almost two years.

The four of us kids left St John’s Catholic school which we’d attended in Dapto to go to St Paul’s in Albion Park. Both schools were run by the Sisters of St Joseph – nicknamed the “Brown Joeys” because they wore a brown, rather than a black habit.

sisters of st Joseph

The Sisters of St Joseph had established St Paul’s Catholic Primary School in 1882 to serve the needs of the Albion Park Catholic community. Initially known as St Joseph’s, the single building school commenced with three sisters and fifty students. In 1940 the school assumed the name of the parish patron, St Paul.


St Paul’s Catholic School as it was in the 1950s.

St Paul’s Catholic School as it was in the 1950s.


When we attended there were still only three classrooms and three sisters teaching there. They lived in the convent house next to the school grounds.

The order of the Sisters of St Joseph was started by a woman who was officially canonised as Australia’s first saint in 2010. She was Mother Mary MacKillop, now known as St Mary of the Cross.

Mary Helen MacKillop, born in 1842 in Melbourne, was the first of eight children to Catholics Alexander and Flora MacKillop, who had migrated to Australia from Scotland. The family was poor but the children were all well educated by their father.


Young Mary MacKillop

Young Mary MacKillop


Mary worked hard to help the family and at age eighteen, went to Penola as governess to her aunt and uncle’s children, and also taught other local children.

In 1966, with help from Father Woods, her spiritual advisor, she set up a school in an old stable. Her sisters, Anne and Lexie taught with her. Later that year, Mary and Lexie dressed as religious postulants, their way of showing their dedication to God and to the education of poor Catholic children.

Mary McKillop

Mother Mary MacKillop


In 1867, Mary became the first sister, Mary of the Cross, and Mother Superior of a new order of nuns, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The order embraced poverty and their focus was to teach the poor and those in remote areas of Australia. The order grew to become one of the largest in Australia.

The Head Sister when I was at St Paul’s school was Sr Mammertus. She was very strict, and most children – and even parents – were afraid of her. My favourite nun was Sr Therese, who was young and considerate, quite different to the others. There were only three rooms in the school building, so all classes were multigrade.

Class 4,5,6 St Pauls 1956

My brother and sister are in this group of pupils at St Paul’s.


I don’t know if it was any harder being taught by the sisters, but the kids at St Paul’s, which has grown enormously, are now taught by lay teachers. With the turn away from religion by many, the religious life no longer holds the attraction it once did, and there are not many nuns now. Even where they do exist, most no longer wear the hot, drab and bulky habits of their predecessors.

What has been your experience of religious nuns? Do you remember the (almost) light-hearted animosity between children at Catholic and non-Catholic schools?


© Linda Visman 11.04.2014 (566 words)

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