Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (RSJ)

Founder Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop, the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, was born on January 15, 1842 in Melbourne, Australia. She was the eldest of seven children.Educated at home and at the Academy of Mary Immaculate, in Melbourne, Mary worked as a clerk with a printing firm and later as a governess.

With Fr Julian Tenison Woods in 1866 at Penola, South Australia Mary established,one of the first Australian orders of women religious. This new congregation was designed to meet the particular needs of the emerging Australian migrant society.

Life-style of the Sisters

Central to Mary MacKillop’s ideal of simple and frugal lifestyle, was her heroic trust and confidence in God’s providence, upon which the institute was founded. This spirit of frugality and simplicity on which the whole mission was based, enabled the sisters to live in rented houses, or whatever the people could provide, be it the sacristy of the church, tent, wattle-daub hut or a section of the school.

Like every other religious congregation the primary aim of the Sisters of St Joseph is the striving towards holiness by each of its members. For the Sister of St Joseph, holiness was to be sought;

  • First by way of the service of the Catholic education of poor children
  • Second, by works of charity towards deprived and disadvantaged people in society, whose social and spiritual well-being was threatened or diminished.

Mary required of her sisters unconditional fidelity to the stated uniformity of the institute’s aims, that they understand the condition of the poor, who were chiefly the deprived working-class families of the 19th century colonies of Australia, and frequently included neglected children, homeless and uneducated people, employed and unemployed adults.

Mary was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.  She is a saint of the universal Church that has walked and taught in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Sisters in New Zealand

Father Fauvel SM was the parish priest of Temuka.  Hearing of the work of the new congregation in Australia he wrote to Mary MacKillop asking her to send sisters to his parish.  After many delays three sisters arrived on 1 November 1883.

By 1894, the year of Mary MacKillop’s first visit to New Zealand, there were four communities in the North Island, (Remuera and Grey Lynn in Auckland; Meeanee near Napier; Matata in the Bay of Plenty) and four in the South Island (Temuka, Kerrytown and Waimate in South Canterbury and Rangiora in North Canterbury). By this time New Zealand women had joined the sisterhood.

The Sisters Today

Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart can be found in all diocese of Aotearoa New Zealand carrying out many different forms of ministry.  They are teachers, nurses, community workers, caregivers, lawyers…

Find out more about the sisters
Explore the life and work of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop