Religious women who brought the Gospel to life
Religious women of the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese were among the prime evangelisers in this part of the world and absolutely fundamental to the sowing and maintaining of the seeds of faith, especially in the more far flung parts of the Archdiocese where others would not or could not go. (Archbishop Mark Coleridge, 2013)
The Bicentenary of Catholic Education is a time for giving thanks; a time for all to renew our commitment to this sacred role of evangelisation which, in whatever form it takes, remains forever fundamental to the core and ethos of Catholic education.
The Diocese of Goulburn was established in 1862. The Sisters of Mercy who came to Goulburn in 1859 from Westport in Ireland were the first Congregation to live outside the centres of early colonial life. They were joined by the Sisters of Saint Joseph and Presentation Sisters in laying the foundations of a strong, faith-based Catholic education system. When the Monaro and South Coast regions came into the Goulburn Diocese in 1917, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Charity and Brigidine Congregations added their strength to the task.
The massive population growth of the post war years saw resources stretched and women religious responded to the changing needs. They made difficult decisions to close rural schools when bus travel to bigger centres became available, in order to free personnel to establish new schools in city centres; and some provided staff and shared responsibility for leadership of secondary colleges and primary schools.
Religious women again led the change when in 1959 Archbishop Eris O’Brien invited the Dominican Sisters to open a College in Canberra to prepare Sisters from a number of congregations as teachers for the rapidly expanding diocesan Primary School system. By 1975 Signadou College was accepting young women and men ready to embrace the ministry of education as vocation and to give witness to the gospel call through evangelisation and service.
The contribution of religious women in schools and parishes, in cities and far-flung rural areas, is a story of dedication, commitment and sacrifice made for the sake of the children and young people. These women of prayer, hospitality and compassion, grounded within the spirit of their Founders, developed and taught educational programs that gifted young people with a ‘faith lens’ and a wholistic readiness for their journey through life.
While it is true that there are few women religious to be found in schools today, their legacy lives on. Even now they continue to give witness to a loving God and to offer companionship to all in their parishes and communities across the Archdiocese. The quiet, prayerful presence of older women religious supports those whose responsibility it is to carry the baton forward and accept the challenge to “stir new gospel energies in a time when that might seem unlikely”. (Archbishop Coleridge, 2013)
Called to share their faith in a loving and forgiving God, religious women have been integral to the establishment of a network of schools that formed the basis of the Catholic Education system in the Archdiocese of Canberra Goulburn. These women have brought the Gospel to life for thousands of children and young people and highlighted the possibility of a life lived with faith, hope and love.
• Sr Noelene is a Josephite Sister who has been congregation leader, founding principal of St Mary MacKillop College, Tuggeranong and now assists homeless women at MacKillop House, Canberra