History and Spirit

The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart were co-founded by the English priest Reverend Julian Edmund Tenison Woods and an Australian woman Mary MacKillop in Penola, South Australia in 1866.

Julian and Mary had a deep sense of call to respond to the needs of isolated children in outback Australia who were receiving little education, neither secular nor religious. The Sisters ministered firstly in rural areas and then in other towns and cities. Ever conscious of a Provident God, they lived among the people whom they served, providing education and practical help to those in need.  The Order grew rapidly and Sisters were soon ministering throughout Australia in education, health, social services, spirituality and culture.

Mary moved to North Sydney in 1884 and established the second Novitiate there.

The land on which St Joseph’s Centre is located was originally part of the property belonging to Alexander MacDougall. It then passed to Susanna Matilda Ward who was granted part of the five hundred acres.

In 1952 Mother Leone Ryan, then Superior General of the Congregation, purchased the property so as to move the crowded Novitiate from Mount Street North Sydney to this 47 hectare property.

Building commenced soon after the purchase was made and the Novitiate opened on 14th April, 1956.  A small community moved in immediately and the first novices were settled in their new Novitiate by 13th June that same year. Over the years this aspect of life diminished as the number of novices decreased.

In 1977 the Congregation saw the need for a Spirituality Centre to assist in the on-going renewal of the Sisters. As a result, part of the Novitiate was refurbished and the first “Emmaus” program commenced in 1978. By 1988 the Congregation had sold a significant portion of the land, retaining 18 hectares.

It was 1995 when the Novitiate moved from Baulkham Hills to Quakers Hill. By late 1990’s plans were drawn to further develop the buildings for future use. The refurbishment of the Novitiate buildings began in 2001. Within a couple of years the Centre for Reflective Living was born.  This new focus in ministry continues today.

More land, zoned for residential development was sold in 2016, while retaining 5.6 hectares. The Centre is situated on this portion and continues to host conferences, retreats, sabbaticals and private bookings.

The Sisters now minister in many parts of the world continuing the vision of Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop. Along with their employees and volunteers the Sisters have taken on various ministries as they strive to meet new challenges in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Peru and various developing communities. In their ministries they show that, in practical, ordinary ways, they can make God’s compassionate love real for those around them.

The Congregation aligned with their Partners in Ministry are still involved in:

  • Education across the life span.
  • Health care ministries, which include the needs of people in grief, hospital and aged care facilities.
  • Social welfare ministries which reach out to our Aborigines, homeless, refugees, the unemployed and seafarers.
  • Pastoral ministries in various settings: parishes, hospitals, aged care, prisons, aboriginal and migrant communities, in both city and rural areas.
  • Retreat ministry and other expressions of spirituality.
  • The needs of the Congregation in a variety of administrative and community services.