The pioneering Sisters of Charity remembered

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Sr Clare Nolan and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP with a bust of Mother Mary Aikenhead. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography

On New Year’s Eve 1838, five Sisters of Charity from Ireland sailed into Sydney Cove on a mission to care for one of the most deprived groups in the Colony of NSW—female convicts.

Now, 180 years later, a Heritage Centre dedicated to the legacy and charism of the Sisters of Charity—Australia’s first order of religious women—has been opened at Potts Point.

The Heritage Centre is designed to tell the story of the Sisters and the work they have done since arriving in Australia 180 years ago

“Mother Mary John Cahill, Sisters Mary Francis de Sales O’Brien, Mary Baptist De Lacy and Mary Lawrence Cater, and the novice Sr Mary Xavier Williams must have had a lot of what used to be called ‘pluck’ – courage, a sense of adventure, inspiration and determination – to volunteer to cross the world and establish the first convent of religious women in Australia,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said, as he officially opened the Heritage Centre on 6 June.

Archbishop Fisher blesses the new Heritage Centre at Potts Point. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography

The Sisters had made the arduous journey by boat to Australia in response to a call from Sydney’s Archbishop Bede Polding, for assistance in ministering to female convicts.

Through exhibition space and archives, the new Heritage Centre will allow future generations to appreciate the history of the Sisters of Charity and the work they did in caring for others, Sr Clare Nolan, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity in Australia, said.

“The Heritage Centre is designed to tell the story of the Sisters and the work they have done since arriving in Australia 180 years ago,” she said.

Archbishop Fisher with the Sisters of Charity. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography

“It celebrates the Sisters of Charity’s story and that of religious women.”

When they first arrived in Sydney, the Sisters began their ministry in the Parramatta area.

“Their first task was to serve those considered the most degraded in the whole British empire: the convict women of the Female Factory in Parramatta, many of them prostitutes, with their illegitimate children,” Archbishop Fisher said.

It celebrates the Sisters of Charity’s story and that of religious women

“It was in such of these that these pioneer Sisters invested themselves in the hope of giving them improved health, a little education, some employable skills, the simple encouragement of knowing someone believed them.”

Archbishop Fisher and Sr Clare Nolan in front of one of the exhibits in the Heritage Centre. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography

The Heritage Centre is designed to showcase the significant contribution and achievements of the Sisters of Charity since their arrival in Australia 180 years ago. It features exhibition space, Congregational archives, experiential displays and contemplative spaces including St Vincent’s Chapel and courtyard.

Today, under the stewardship of Mary Aikenhead Ministries, the Sisters of Charity continue to care for others in the areas of education, health, aged care, social welfare and social justice.

Over the years they founded numerous schools and hospitals around Australia.

For more information about the Sisters of Charity Heritage Centre: 02 9550 9207 or [email protected]

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