Brian Condon: Letters and Documents in 19th Century Australian Catholic History

Mary MacKillop to the Episcopal Commissioners, Bishops Murphy and Quinn. June 1872?

[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, 1308-1311v?. Original English text?]


My Lords,

I will endeavour as briefly as possible to mention certain things which may throw some light upon matters you wish to know. I believe it to be the wish of your Lordships that I should do so - and my own desire is to obey these wishes and leave the rest to God.

Our late and much loved Bishop was far too kind a Father to the children of the Institute for any, much less myself, to forget his memory now. I think he thought too kindly of us - and then when some who did not understand our struggles and intentions spoke perhaps too harshly of us, he believed what he heard and consequently felt bitterly disappointed in us. He never was anything but kind, extremely kind to any of us until early in September last.

I had frequently before then wished to have seen more of him, and to have made him more thoroughly acquainted with many little things which I thought that as our Bishop he should know. I felt that for our Bishop he knew too little for himself of many of our difficulties both internal as regarded our rule, and external as regarded our schools. Father Director, to whom I mentioned this desire, thought well of it provided I did not try to tell the Bishop of the treatment to which the Sisters were sometimes subjected by some who did not seem friendly to us.

Father Director's motive in this was one of extreme charity, and besides he thought it more pleasing to God that we should suffer any of these little annoyances in silence.

It was on my return from Queensland that I wished for this, but the opportunity of quietly talking matters over with his Lordship was not afforded me. I returned in the end of April, and was sent immediately with the foundation to Port Augusta. Then as the Convents in the North and on the Peninsula required attention, Father Director thought it better that I should see to their wants first, and afterwards attend to those of the Mother House. Owing to this I was but very little in town.

I believe that much injury was done to the schools in some places through the frequent changes of the Sisters, and that this was one reason why the Pastors found fault with us. Another reason was that some were under the impression that the Sisters who taught in their schools were in the habit of sending money to Adelaide to Fr. Woods. Some thought the Sisters disregarded their authority and could not understand why that of Fr. Woods was so often referred to. In general terms, too, fault was found with the inefficiency of the Sisters.

My wish was to mention all these things to the Bishop, to tell him how far I thought we had given cause for complaint, and how, as we were then getting more settled and had gained more experience, we might better be able to remedy any such evils in future.

First, with regard to the frequent changes of the Sisters, we did not like them ourselves, I am sure Father Director did not, but as we were but beginners and many whom we had to send to country schools required encouragement and instructions, it became necessary in their case to change such. At other times, their spiritual welfare required it, their very Confessors even obliging them to write to town asking to be removed. In some cases they had to be removed owing to their extreme discouragement at things said to them by their Pastors. In others through ill-health. In all this I do not for a moment mean to say but that we might often have managed better.

In any cases where I was able to explain our difficulty in this matter to the Pastors, I found them extremely kind and willing to admit that they were satisfied that in the beginning of our work we could not quite have avoided some changes. Father William Kennedy of Kadina, to whom in particular I had opportunities of talking over these matters was very kind and has been so all through, both to the Sisters and to Father Woods. So also have the Jesuit Fathers, and some more kind priests. I do not know how many of our Pastors have been under the impression that the Sisters under them were in the habit of sending money to Fr. Woods. Some I know were, for they accused the Sisters of it, but the truth is that in some of these very cases, Fr. Woods had to give the Sisters money, and their Sisters in town had to provide them with necessary clothing.

In one or two Convents it is true that the Sisters were able occasionally to send a little help to the Mother House, but this was from what they had over and above what they required for the immediate wants of their own convents or schools. However, the Pastors of those who did this were not the ones who accused the Sisters of sending their money to town.

According to our Rule it was but just that whatever was not actually required for any particular convent should be given to the support of the Novitiate or any other poor convent, as the Chapter might decide.

I therefore thought that if the Bishop really knew the truth he might apply some remedy or at least in some quiet way disabuse the minds of those who thought money was coming to town when instead of that the Mother House had to incur debt to meet the wants of many of the country Sisters.

At the same time I believe that many of these very Sisters through inexperience, bad management and timidity were themselves to blame for being so badly off - but I also knew that they were willing to be taught the way to do better, and I felt perfectly satisfied that a little kind consideration on the part of the Pastors in such cases together with a candid explanation on our own would make all parties happier.

Where there were some who thought the Sisters disregarded their authority I believed that they only did so from the fact of their not understanding our Rule, and of their not taking into consideration that we were but a young body, who required a head to guide us - and to be our teacher in the Rule which he had given to us.

Sometimes these Pastors thought that I had interfered with their authority. On one occasion a priest had expressed himself so bitterly to a Sister that in much trouble she wrote to me about it. With some difficulty I obtained Fr. Director's permission to go to see this priest and to try to know in what I had displeased him. He was much displeased at first, and accused me of some things, one of which I remember was - that I had induced a penitent of his to come to the Convent without his permission. I assured him that I had not done anything of the kind - and that I would have thought it very wrong to have done so. When I left him I had every reason to believe that he was satisfied with this or any other of the things we then spoke of, but I do not think he has been a friend to the Institute since. I am sure though that he thought he had good reason for all he ever said to us or of us.

I think that during the time I was in Queensland one of the Sisters who taught under this priest, and who was not very patient, answered him on some occasions more hotly than as a religious she should have done, but no matter what provocation might be given, the Sisters were always taught by Fr. Woods to submit with patience, and even to try to believe that they actually deserved all the hard things from time to time said to them. He therefore never encouraged a Sister in the slightest murmur against her Pastor - and I am happy to say that I heard very few, for usually the Sisters thanked God for what they received, believing that their Pastors were actually doing what they thought most for their good in the sight of God.

Another matter that caused some of the Pastors annoyance was the uniform system we were taught to maintain in our schools. This system had obtained the Bishop's sanction even before he first went to Europe, and it was afterwards confirmed by the Rule. When therefore some of the Pastors wished to alter certain portions they felt displeased with the Sisters for saying that "such would be against the Rule", or for referring them to Fr. Director.

Then as to the inefficiency of the Sisters I really cannot remember previous to last September any particular complaint, unless perhaps three. One was against a Sister whom, from having been previously known to the people as having lived very humbly, the Pastor thought they could not respect as a teacher for their children - nor did he think her fitted for the office. This was in the early days - but Fr. Woods who had examined her thought differently. She was then removed to another school. Another complaint was made in the course of time that she was unfitted for the second school, and as the Bishop was then back, Fr. Woods asked him if he would kindly examine the school and the Sister's method of teaching himself, which he did, and told Fr. Woods to keep her there, that he was very much pleased with all that he saw and heard. I may add that that very Sister is now one of our most useful teachers.

The third complaint was about a remote country school to which at the Bishop's own desire I at once went, and found not the slightest cause of complaint, as I was afterwards able to explain to the good Pastor himself. The truth was that one of the Sisters sent to that school had been known to the priest as his own servant and he therefore could not understand how she was fit for the school. But the school was a small one - not more than 30 children at the most - and consequently this Sister had very little to do in it. She was of course under a Little Sister quite competent for the duties of that school.

As far as I can remember these were the only particular charges though many general ones were spoken of against the Sisters' inefficiency. Father Woods from his position with regard to the schools had full opportunities of knowing the class of teachers they required. There were at first but few schools in which the children could pass the Third Class standard, and this they could only do in Arithmetic and Reading. All other subjects, even the very Catechism, were comparatively speaking new to them.

According to our school regulations we had certain subjects for every class, from the First to the Fifth, and to be able to do justice to these, had as far as possible to divide the Sisters into First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Class teachers. At the night study in every Convent, the Little Sister of the same had to see that the class subjects for the next day were prepared beforehand, as also the object or gallery lessons. She had also particularly, if she were a Fourth or Fifth Class teacher, to see that she was herself prepared for any difficulties that might come in the way of her own class the next day. If, as in some cases, the Little Sister were not the principal teacher in the school herself, it would then be her duty to see that whatever Sister had the charge should not neglect its duties. The regular and strict attention to study was not in every Convent so carefully adhered to as it should have been. Various causes had interfered, or the Sisters themselves had been at fault.

From some things I heard last September, I believe that fault was found with my visiting the Convents, it appearing to some of the priests that I did so for personal gratification, or from a love of authority, etc. My simple opinion about this is that in an Institute such as ours with its subjects in so many ways exposed to dangers from which other religious are exempted, it becomes the bounden duty of someone from time to time to see and encourage them, and to endeavour to keep uniformity both in the schools and in the Sisters' minds. It was proposed for this Province that the Sister Guardian or Provincial should visit each Convent and school twice a year and thus, with the help of the Pastor in each case, be able to see what satisfaction or dissatisfaction had been given during the previous six months, and at the same time to ascertain whether for the Sisters' own good or for that of the schools, any change would be deemed necessary.

Again, with regard to the internal matters affecting our Rule of which I wished to speak to the Bishop, I have them now, as then, pencilled out in the Rule book and - should your Lordships at any time wish it - can show them to you.


[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, ff. 1387-1394. {Original in Latin: a continuation of folio 1383, in the same hand and on the same colour and type of paper. BC}. Adelaide Archdiocesan Archives note: 'This section more or less the same as SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, ff. 1387-1395, sent to Rome by Reynolds in English ... [MF]']


For a fuller explanation of the dissolution of [the] Convent in Franklin St. [:]

At the beginning of September 1871, while I was in the Convent of St Joseph at Kadina, I was informed by letters from Adelaide that the Reverend Bishop no longer held that Convent in good regard, nor the Sisters generally.

I returned without delay, and on the 7th. of September went with Sister Teresa to the Bishop. He said that he had sent a letter to me at Kadina in which I was directed to bring Sister Ursula from Kadina, since Fr. Kennedy had complained to the Bishop that the Sister seemed unfit for the Institute. Since on the previous day I had returned from Kadina, where I had heard Fr. Kennedy praising this same sister, I suspected that some mistake had been made. I made this known to the Bishop. But he would not listen. He said that Fr. Kennedy had complained through Fr. Corcoran, and that I was to return immediately to Kadina and remove Sister Ursula.

Then he complained about the number of Sisters in the Mother House: how useless they were; what could he think of the frequent singing in our Schools?; that many other things were to be changed; there were too many ignorant Sisters, so that this was a cause of shame to him, as had happened when he visited his friends in Victoria. He thought all should be examined and those incompetent to teach dismissed, so that they could save their souls in the world and earn a proper livelihood. He added that higher subjects should be taught, particularly music; he himself knew well that many Sisters could teach this, so it could be done. He did not wish to have so many Sisters in the City itself: 4 for one and 2 for another school would suffice.

I inquired what would become of the schools for the poor: 'These will have the Dominican Religious'. And what of the Convent?: 'They will also have that. A small house will be sufficient for you'. He wished that we should procure something of this kind for ourselves. Since he permitted only a certain number of Sisters to live in the Mother House, I asked him what was to be done with the sick (we were accustomed to send them to the Mother House, where they were cared for by Dr Gunson in his charity). The Bishop replied: 'Each Convent can care for its own sick'. He would send this instruction to the priests who supervised the Schools: the Sisters were to make their annual retreat in their own house; all the houses were to be separate, having nothing to do with the house in Adelaide; he himself would care for the latter, nor would there be a Superior there. I said that I hoped it was not his intention to dismiss any professed Sisters, ill-educated or no. He made no reply to this question but seemed disturbed in mind, complaining of a certain Sister who, a few days before, had written a letter giving her opinion concerning the prayers of the children, a matter which His Lordship and the Sister had discussed together.

It seemed to me that nothing further should be attempted that day but a more favourable time be waited for and my mind be made clear, lest he get the impression that I agreed with these changes in the Rule. He had also stated that the Sisters who did not accept the changes in the Rule would be dismissed to return to the world, their vows having been dispensed by him. This examination of the Sisters he wished to be made before the end of the present year.

I returned to Kadina by steamer but Sister Ursula had already left by another route. Fr Kennedy was very annoyed that mention of him had been made in this affair, and that he was so far from sending any complaints about that Sister that, having received letters from the Bishop in which Sister Ursula was ordered to go immediately to the City, he had at once written to the Bishop in terms which fully vindicated that Sister. He gave me these letters. This being the state of affairs, I returned to Adelaide on the same day as I arrived, and on the following day (10th. September) I gave the letters to the Bishop.

On the evening of the day on which I went to Kadina His Lordship directed that no Sister should go to the Schools on the following day, since they were to be examined. On September 8th. Fathers Horan and Murphy went to the Convent a second time, firstly that they might examine the Sisters, secondly that an inventory might be made of the things the Sisters had brought to the Convent.

The Sisters who had taken the place of others in teaching were not examined at all. Those who were called were from the Orphanage and the Providence, also a few of the juniors who taught under the direction of the Seniors, the Sisters engaged in domestic duties, and the sick who had the strength to leave the dormitory. The priests went themselves to the dormitory, refusing to take the Superior's word that those who remained were too ill to leave it.

When the priests returned a second time their manner of questioning very seriously afflicted all the Sisters, to the point where the Superior was unable to bear it and objected to their way of acting as one which a well-disposed layman, not to mention a priest, would not have used and accused them of taking advantage of both the condition of the Sisters who were unable to help themselves, and the absence of the General Superior.

Overcome by anger, she added that while some of the forebears of the Sisters had shed their blood for the Faith, so also the Sisters were ready to defend their Rule unto death. She quickly regained her composure, however, and asked pardon on her knees if she had offended them; they said they were not offended. The same priests, in my absence, made various arrangements concerning the Sisters, giving them duties for which they were in no way fitted. For Kapunda Fr. Horan chose whom he willed, among them being one who belonged to a Convent near the City and another who for her own good should not have been sent to Kapunda.

About an hour after I had sent my letter to His Lordship (10th. September), he and Fr Nowlan came to the Convent. They asserted that my letter showed a lack of religious submission, adding that they had not expected this of me; the Bishop had made the Rule and could change it, nor did he think I could deny him this right. Greatly afflicted and upset by this, I said I did not deny any of this and it grieved me to be the cause of his distress. I wished nothing more from those letters than to indicate that I was making it clear that, leaving aside the changed Rule, I would wait for the time when I would be able to keep the original one. The Bishop reproached me for having complained in the letters about the priests, and I asked his forgiveness. I added, however, that it was hard for me to bear that he should complain of my openness without taking into account my obligation not to conceal anything from His Lordship.

From that time until the day before the inquiry I neither saw the Bishop nor heard from him. On the day before the inquiry he told me to go to Bagot's Gap. Since I had heard so much about changing the Rule but nothing certain, and since at the same time news came from Bathurst from Fr. Woods asking that I send Sisters there, I very much wanted to see the Bishop concerning these matters so that I might have a clear idea of his thinking. But before I could see him I was told that, while I was at the school, the Bishop had come to the Convent and had ordered me to go to Bagot's Gap. He dismissed Sister Ursula for recalcitrance. Then he went to the Orphanage, where he proposed the new Rule to some of the Sisters there. One of the Sisters, having said she preferred to live under the old Rule, was dismissed from the Convent etc. Since I did not have the necessary money I was unable to start my journey. Therefore I stayed with the Sisters. I felt I could not leave them without help, and I thought I should at least see the Bishop before I left. I went to my Director, who advised me to see the Bishop.

Returning home, I heard that Fr Horan was there questioning some of the Sisters. He said that the change of the Rule was of no account, and that he wished to be a true father and friend. I was not able to reconcile this with what I had recently heard elsewhere.

When Fr. Horan had finished his inquiry I spoke with him. Fr. Horan said I was not to go to Bagot's Gap but to St John's, early the following morning. When I said that I greatly desired to speak to the Bishop he said he did not think the Bishop wished to see me, but that he was prepared to tell the Bishop anything I wished to say to him. Since there were so many rumours about changing the Rule, I said I wished to hear from the Bishop's mouth what these changes might be. Fr. Horan replied: There will be choir Sisters and lay Sisters; each Convent will be subject to the local priest; there will be no bond between the houses, nor with the house in the City; no appeal can be made to anyone except the Bishop. Since this was so opposed to our Rule, I said I could not in conscience remain in the Institute. Then he brought up my letter to the Bishop and condemned it vehemently. There was much talk between us, which it would take too long to recount.

However, I remember that I said, "Why not call a Chapter of the Sisters to which this matter could be proposed?." He said the Bishop was the Chapter and the wishes of the Bishop should be sufficient. I asked him whether the matter could be postponed until Fr. Woods, the founder of the Institute, should return. Fr. Horan replied with indignation that His Lordship would hear neither Fr. Woods nor others.

Among other things, he added that the Sisters considered Fr. Woods as the Bishop, but that Fr. Woods was not the Bishop. I dared to observe in the wake of this that there was no necessity for Fr. Woods to be the Director, but that changing the Rule was a matter of cardinal importance. Finally Fr. Horan asked me "As I understand it, you are not going to St John's tomorrow?." "Father", I said, "how can I, under that Rule?." I spoke with deliberation because I feared to refuse, nor was I willing to give the Sisters any reason to think that I accepted the new Rule. At this point Fr. Horan left, saying that the Bishop would see me on the following morning.

When Fr. Horan had left I called together all the professed Sisters to inform them of what Fr. Horan had told Sister Teresa, namely that Sister Mary Angela had admitted that she had taken away the Blessed Sacrament. I was well aware that this information greatly afflicted them. I wished to make it known then, lest perhaps they should hear it the following day when they were unprepared for it; I lifted their spirits lest they be cast down because we had been deceived by one of the Sisters.

The Sisters asked me what they should do about the new Rule. My constant reply was always: Each one should do what would most please God; they should not try to please Man, but rather choose what they would want to do at the moment of death; nor were they to follow my example. I left them in the hands of God with fullest confidence, since I am persuaded that if they seek the will of God alone in this matter, He will not permit them to take a wrong path. To one in particular who urged me with - as I feared - a wrong intention I said, "Read the formula of your profession and then decide."

[ff 1389+] On the 21st. of September his Lordship with Fathers Horan and Murphy came to the Convent and announced that all the Sisters, including those of the Orphanage and the Providence, were to come next day to the Convent, where he would see them at 10 a.m. Sister Theresa said the school near the Cathedral *was more suitable*. She was told that Sister Mary was no longer in authority, and that she should procure a house as soon as possible. The Sister replied that it was already arranged. At midday the Bishop and Fr Horan came to the school near the Cathedral and the Bishop said to the Sisters: "You will have a new Rule: the Sisters are to be lay or choir [teaching]. Those who are now Postulants are to return home and educate themselves for a year. If any Sister wearing the habit and not suitable for teaching should refuse to accept the new Rule, she is to return home. The local priests will be the Superiors of the Convents. They will be the only ones to have that title, and there will be no Superior General and no head except the Bishop."

Sister Monica said she wished to adhere to the old Rule approved by him. The Bishop said that he had written it and he could also change it, that he knew better what would benefit the Sisters, nor had the Sisters vowed obedience to Fr Woods. "We have not vowed to him," said the Sister, "but I prefer not to be under the changed Rule." The Bishop: "You are free to leave the Institute if the change is not acceptable." He went on to speak of the School for the poor, which he had visited a few days previously, and [where] he had found four Sisters engaged in teaching and about a dozen walking about the Convent doing nothing. The Sisters knew nothing about the religious life. Sister Monica asked the Bishop to deign to give to the Sisters clearly, and in writing, the changes to be made. "I will not do that," he said, "nor will I indulge feminine whim." He then complained that the Sisters taught devotions which the pupils did not understand; he said he intended to put a stop to these.

From there he went to the Convent to see Sister Mary. Since she was absent, he left directions that she should go to Bagot's Gap.

That same evening Fr. Horan came to the Convent to question several Sisters. Again there was talk of the new Rule, a matter which he did not think to be of great importance: the Sisters unable to teach would serve the teachers, none who already wore the habit were to be dismissed. Sister Teresa asked him whether Sister Mary should go to Bagot's Gap the following day. He replied that the Bishop wished to send her to St. John's. Sister Mary then came and spoke with Fr. Horan, as reported above.

Fr. Horan returned to the Convent between 10 and 11 o'clock that same evening announcing that Sister Mary had been excommunicated by the Bishop for rebellion. Fr. Horan did not see Sister Mary. Not feeling well, she had gone to bed before the other Sisters, but they were all by then in the dormitory, except for one or two detained by their duties. Fr. Horan gave Sister Teresa the instructions he had received. She passed them on to Sister Mary, who replied that there was no help for it, that she could not have acted in any other way. Sister Teresa related this to Fr. Horan, adding that all the Sisters still in the Convent were of one mind, and that this conviction had not come at the instigation of Sister Mary; he was reminded about another occasion when Sister Teresa and another Sister were talking with him about the new Rule and had expressed the same convictions.

Just after 8 o'clock on the following day, His Lordship and Fathers Horan, Roach, Murphy and Cleary came to the Convent and asked why the Sisters had not been at Mass in the morning. Sister Teresa: "The Sisters thought Sister Mary had been excommunicated." The Bishop: "You have misunderstood this, like everything else. The devil dwells among you. I shall dismiss you all." Sister Teresa asked pardon on her knees for any misunderstanding. Fr. Horan declared that he had not said that Sister Mary "had been" excommunicated, but that she "would be" unless she obeyed the Bishop.

The Bishop wished to see Sister Mary without delay. Since Sister Mary was not well, they were to wait for the Bishop in the Community room while Sister Mary got up and the Sisters from the Providence and the Orphanage came.

When Sister Mary came she asked on her knees for the Bishop's blessing, but he refused it. They went to the Oratory. Here, having taken the mitre and seated himself, the Bishop told Sister Mary to kneel before him. He said that, on account of her disobedience and rebellion, he had to pronounce against her the terrible sentence of excommunication. On hearing this, Sister Teresa came and knelt beside Sister Mary. When the Bishop saw this he said, "What is this? Go away." She got up and returned to her place in choir. Then the sentence of excommunication was pronounced. The Bishop added: "Mary MacKillop, you are free to return to the world, whose evils, I fear, you are largely responsible for introducing into the Institute"; and much more of the same.

As Sister Mary left the Oratory the feelings of the Sisters, restrained up to this, burst out. The Bishop had said that when Sister Mary was excommunicated, the others would be excommunicated. But some of the Sisters at least did not seem to care about his being present, nor even about the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Overcome by sorrow, they embraced Sister Mary and called out her name. Sister Mary prayed and commanded that there be more quiet and that they should remember in Whose presence they were.

Two Sisters in particular seemed to be totally distraught. But gradually order was restored, and the Bishop said Fr. Horan was to call by name those who were to be lay women. Four were called, who all refused the new Rule and to whom the Bishop said they were free. Then many asked for a dispensation since they could not follow the new Rule. These the Bishop ordered to remain as long as it should please him; he would teach them obedience, which they had never learnt, and whoever of them should leave the Institute without permission would be immediately excommunicated.

The Blessed Sacrament was taken away. The altar furniture had been taken the day before to another house, in which four Sisters lived. An Inventory was taken. The Bishop himself cleaned out the whole house. The altar furnishings, which had been removed to the new house, were to be handed over to him; this was done. On September 22nd the Sisters handed over the Convent.

On the 3rd. of October, the Bishop said to Sister Teresa that it was his duty to remove her from the Institute because she had acted with such contempt of him on the day of the excommunication, but that her vows remained until she put off the habit.

On October the 13th. the Bishop made Sister Monica the Superioress. When she asked the Bishop what was to be changed in the Rule, since she could not live under another Rule, he replied, "There is no change in the Rule." Sister Monica: "But, Your Lordship, we do not have a Superior General or a Mother House, and almost all the rest has been changed." "All this is of no great importance", said the Bishop, "each Convent is subject to the local priest; he is the Superior of the Sisters." Sister Monica: "In this way, with the passage of time the whole Rule will be changed, since every Bishop could do likewise." "That is so", said the Bishop "and in all Orders, as in mine, it is done in that way." But he repeatedly said that nothing was changed, and that since the Institute was not confirmed by Rome the Sisters were subject only to him, and he could make changes. Sister Monica: "I know that Your Lordship can do as you please." "Not what pleases me as a person", said the Bishop, "but what I as Bishop consider necessary." He also said that he had dismissed Sister Teresa from the Institute because she had knelt at the side of Sister Mary on the day of the excommunication, thus showing contempt for him. Sister Monica: "She did not do this out of contempt for Your Lordship." The Bishop: "Sister Teresa also wrote a letter in which she was contemptuous of me."



[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, 1391v-93. Original in Latin. {Adelaide Archdiocesan Archives note: 'N.B. English text has more detail e.g. the Rule'}]


The Bishop concerned himself greatly with us. Before September 1871, if anyone who did not understand our purpose and the difficulties confronting us spoke against us, the Bishop would listen to him but judge him to be deceived. I often wished to inform the Bishop more fully about a number of things small enough in themselves, but which I thought he should know. He did not know much about us, about the Rule, about the Schools and their difficulties. I communicated this desire to the Father Director who agreed, so long as I made no mention of the injustices which were being inflicted on us by those who showed little inclination to support us. He urged, out of his exceeding charity, that silent acceptance would be more pleasing to God.

Various matters kept me either in the other colonies or in places far from the city, so that I was very little in the city. Nor did I find the time, in my sloth, to transact business with His Lordship as the matter demanded.

I think it was to the detriment of our schools that the Sisters were transferred too frequently from one place to another, a matter which had become a source of complaint for the priests. Some priests also thought that the Sisters were sending money to Fr. Woods, others that the Sisters despised their authority because they so frequently mentioned Fr. Woods; hence they complained that the Sisters were not fit for their position. I wished to make these matters known to the Bishop and to discover the cause and the underlying truth, and thus give greater hope for the future.

Certainly the Sisters were frequently transferred from one place to another. This was disturbing to the Father Director and to me. It must be taken into account that those sent to the schools were sometimes unsuitable; also, for the good of their souls some had to be recalled at the request of their confessors, which sometimes happens following particular directions by priests; others were recalled for health reasons. I do not doubt that human weakness and lack of wisdom prevented much from being better done.

Whenever I had an opportunity to explain to the priests the reasons for frequent transfers they were always satisfied, since they readily understood that we could not avoid this, especially at the outset. Fr. William Kennedy at Kadina, the Fathers of the Society of Jesus and other Priests always supported the Sisters and Father Woods.

I knew that some priests thought that the Sisters in the more remote places sent money to Father Woods. The truth is, more often, that money is sent to these Sisters, and that the Sisters in the city provide them with money for clothing. One or two convents sent small amounts to the Mother House from their surplus. But this should have been no cause for complaint: Sisters acted according to the Rule, which is that what is superfluous in one Convent should be given to the Novitiate or to another needy Convent, as the Chapter may decide. Had this been always clearly understood everywhere, all parties would have been more content.

The complaint that the Sisters belittled the authority of the priests in favour of Fr. Woods has its origin in a lack of knowledge of our Rule. Because the Institute of the Sisters is in its infancy, it is altogether necessary that the one head direct it, and it is he who composed the Rule who can best explain it.

I am often accused of belittling the authority of the priests. In one particular matter, by permission obtained from the Director, I saw one priest who was displeased by many things I had done and who had asserted, among other things, that I had said, without consulting him, that he would come to the convent. But I had never done so. I had made my excuses and thought he was satisfied that the complaint was groundless. I have come to the conclusion that our Institute did not have his support from that day on.

Something else happened while I was away in another colony [Queensland]: a sister who suffered from certain failings offended him with what she said. Fr. Woods is not to be blamed; he always admonished the Sisters with patience, so that they accepted that they were in need of correction. It pleases me to be able to say that few indeed had complained, and that everything had been borne in patience.

Another source of complaint from some priests was the uniformity of teaching which prevails in all our Schools. But the method of teaching was approved by the Bishop, and when the Sisters tell a priest that the changes he wants are against the Rule, or say they will let Fr. Woods know about the matter, he takes offence. Up to September 1871 there was hardly a complaint that the Sisters were unfit for their work. One priest complained that a Sister was sent who was well known in the district and of a humble station in life; it was therefore feared that she would not be well received in the school, and that she would not teach well. Although Fr. Woods thought otherwise, he removed her. Another complaint was made, however, that this Sister was not suitable to teach the second class. At the request of Fr. Woods the Bishop himself examined her, approved her, and wished her to remain in her post. I may add that she is now one of the most accomplished of our teaching Sisters.

Another priest also complained that a Sister was sent to the school who had formerly been his housemaid and who, as far as he knew, was not qualified to teach. But this school was small (30 pupils), and the other Sister who was in charge was well qualified to teach; hence the first Sister bore little responsibility. The complaints against these two Sisters were the only specific ones; about the other Sisters there were complaints only in general terms.

When we began to conduct schools Fr. Woods used to examine each grade. There were a few schools in which the Third Class was well conducted, especially in Catechism. That we might be equal to the demands of teaching, the teaching Sisters were divided into five classes. Each evening the lessons of the following day were prepared. This rule was not always observed everywhere with the necessary care because of various hindrances, including a lack of Sisters.

My visiting the Sisters in distant places was ascribed to me as a fault, some priests asserting that I acted from a love of my authority, or from self-love etc. I was persuaded, however, that since it is the form of our Institute and since dangers threaten our Sisters from which the members of other Congregations are free, that there should be someone who sees the Sisters from time to time, gives encouragement, and sees to it that uniformity is preserved in the Schools and in the lives of the Sisters. Therefore the Provincial has the duty of visiting each of the schools in the Province twice a year so that, helped by the priest, she may see whether in the preceding six months of the year the Sisters have given satisfaction, and whether some should be transferred, for their own good or the good of the School.



[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, 1393]



END OF 1867:

Only one Sister made her first vows.


END OF 1868:

40 were wearing the habit.


Vows taken for one year: 8


Second vows 1 (9 professed, 31 novices.)



The first Mistress of Novices was appointed.


At the end of the year 82 had taken the habit:


First vows: 28


Second vows: 9


Novices : 45



With Sister Clare (Mistress of Novices) and 9 novices, I went to Queensland. Sister Teresa was in charge of the Novices, Sister Ignatius in charge of the Mother House and Sister Angela in charge of the Novices.



Sister Monica was made Mistress of Novices.


The Sisters numbered 108. 38 were novices, 8 had perpetual vows.


The total number of Sisters in the Institute was 127, of whom 16 are no longer with us.



120 Sisters, who can be roughly divided in this way:


Teaching 5th. Class


" 4th.


" 3rd.


" 2nd.


" 1st.


Non teaching [Unable to teach]







We now have 25 schools in South Australia, together with the Refuge, the Providence, and the Orphanage. In Queensland we have 6 schools and 15 Sisters.

MARY MacKILLOP EVIDENCE continued. Folio 1393 resumed, ends with 1394

Since the Bishop ordered me to leave the Convent immediately I did so, especially since I could see that the Sisters did not understand the Bishop's order that they should not talk with me. The wild behaviour of two or three of the Sisters afflicted me greatly - but I at length obtained from them a promise to be quiet. I then left the Convent - but wearing the habit, as I had no other clothing.

I went to the house of Dr Woods, not far away; his daughter [Sister Mechtilde], whom the Bishop had dispensed from vows in the morning, accompanied me. It was my wish to remain in this house only until I had prepared what I needed; and because I was weak and sick I could not travel far.

What had been done was already known in this house: a Sister of 'The Providence' had brought them the news, one who was not present when I warned the Sisters not to divulge the matter. I do not excuse the Sisters through whom the matter was opened up; I would wish to add, however, that it was all the more serious because the younger ones were present. It caused me the greatest distress to hear a Sister, a convert to the Catholic Faith, speaking about the Church's tyrannical way of acting. This same Sister had suffered much from her family on account of religion and the day before the excommunication had been dismissed from the Convent, no cause having been given except that the Bishop said she did not have a vocation. She left in distress, asking the Bishop whether he would be responsible for her soul if he sent her back to her Protestant relations. This was Sister Ursula, who has been mentioned above. [The italicised material does not appear in the second version, which follows. They are otherwise virtually identical.]

Dr. Woods asked me many times to stay in his house. I agreed, on the condition, however, that he promise in explicit words that he would not expose the matter in the public press, and that as far as possible he would prevent others from publishing it. He promised, and his wife added that she would take care that I was unknown and hidden. I wished this to be so arranged to avoid scandal, since I was in a Catholic house. I did not wish to see any Sister, only to obey the Bishop's command.

I remained in that house for a month, when the matter became known through the newspapers. I complained that Dr. Woods had broken his promise, and I was pleased when he denied having done so. However, I did not wish to stay any longer in that house, and I hid in the house of a certain Protestant, closely enquired after by the newspapers. I would have fled from the place entirely, except that some people deterred me by warning that I risked losing my soul. I wished to go the Bishop to ask for absolution from the sentence, but I was afraid. It was not the Bishop I feared, only some of his companions, and I was afraid that I would be induced to say or do something from which some reason could be drawn for asserting that my sentence was deserved. I acknowledge that these are grave matters; certainly I think them to be so. I am heartily sorry if they are injurious to anyone.

Since the Sisters who were in the City were dispensed from their vows, I saw them, but I did it secretly. Finding that only a number could live by their work, it was my wish to exhort them to live in this way rather than return to their relatives, but I did not wish to live with them, nor to visit them more frequently than necessity demanded.

A Jewish person who had formerly been a benefactor to us offered us a house in which the Sisters could live without rent. It was there that I received three Postulants who had come from Sydney and who strongly desired to join us. On the same day I instructed the Sisters about certain difficulties put to me about the allocation of time amongst work, study and prayer.

I was accused of holding Chapters; I held only this one. The Sisters are accused of speaking ill of the Bishop and the priests; but as far as I know, with the exception of two or three, all sought forgiveness for what they had done. Those who spoke in this way are of an excitable disposition, but they now regret that they did not exercise more patience.

Some parents whose children were in the schools of the Sisters were asking that the schools should be opened, which the Sisters said they were unable to do without acting against His Lordship's will. During this period some of them worked as governesses, others supported themselves as housemaids and all, as much as they could, helped to pay the debts; help was given particularly to the younger Sisters, lest they be exposed to the dangers of the world. 'The Refuge' laboured under great difficulty since the usual assistance was not at hand, nor was any gainful employment found. 'The Providence' stayed in the care of the Sisters until the parents decided what they wished done with the children. 'The Solitude' was worse off than the rest, and I think it was the fault of the Sister in charge. She did not wish to take up the new Rule and cared little for the old one. In the end, she left the Institute.


Another version of folios 1393-1394. [Not held in Propaganda Archives]: Sister Mary's account of events after her excommunication


As the Bishop told me to leave the Convent as quickly as possible, I did so without delay, more especially as I found that whilst I remained there the Sisters disregarded the command that they had solemnly received not to speak to me. I also felt deeply pained at the wild and excited manner of two or three of the Sisters, and as soon as I had their promise to try to be calm and not to reproach the priests, I left the house. This I had to do in my religious habit, for I had nothing else.

I was only able to go a few doors from the Convent, to the house of Father Woods's brother. I did not, however, intend to remain longer than was necessary to get some things I required and to rest, as I felt weak and ill. Mr. Woods's own daughter, Sister Mary Mechtilde, accompanied me, the Bishop having that morning dispensed her from her vows.

Upon arriving at Mrs. Woods's, I found that she already knew of what had happened, as a Sister from the Providence had thoughtlessly told her of it. I had previously warned the Sisters not to speak of the things that had occurred that morning, but this Sister had not been present.

As Mrs. Woods kindly insisted that I should not leave her house, I promised to remain on the condition that Mr. Woods would solemnly assure me that he would neither write himself nor, as far as he was able, allow anyone else to have what had occurred made known in the papers. This assurance he gave me, Mrs. Woods likewise promising to have my being in her house kept as private as possible. My motive in desiring to have this kept quiet was that I feared it would give scandal to have it publicly known that a Catholic was sheltering me. For the same reason I begged of the Sisters not to come near me as, no matter how hard it was, I thought they should obey the Bishop in that.

I remained at Mr Woods's house until the first notice about the excommunication appeared in the newspaper. At first I accused Mr. Woods of having inserted it, but was soon satisfied that he had not. I however left his house the next day and went to that of an old and faithful nurse of Mrs. Woods, where nobody knew me and where, since the house was a Protestant one, I did not fear giving scandal should my identity become known.

After that, all the disturbance in the papers commenced and had it not been for a kind few who encouraged me I would have fled from the place altogether. I longed to go to the Bishop and beg of him to remove the sentence from me - but I was afraid. I did not fear the Bishop himself, but I did fear some who were with him: my only fear was that they might make me say or do something which would give them cause to say that the sentence was a just one. These were very hard thoughts to have, and if I injured anyone by them I am truly sorry.

As soon as all the Sisters in town were dispensed, I from time to time went to see them, but as privately as possible to avoid scandal. When I found that so many were faithful to the Rule and that they could support themselves by their work in town, I thought it but my duty to tell them to do so rather than to return to their homes in the world, but I would not live with them myself nor even go to see them save when really necessary to relieve their kind anxieties.

A good Jewish person who had been a kind benefactor to us gave us the use of one of his houses rent free, and on the evening the Sisters went there I was in the house and received three postulants who had come over from Sydney some time before, and who begged to share our troubles with us. On the same evening I gave the Sisters some instructions about difficulties they brought before me and about the manner in which they should divide their time between work, study and prayer.

I was accused of holding Chapter - this was the only one. The Sisters were accused of speaking ill of their Bishop and Pastors. As far as I am aware, unless with two or three exceptions, all sought to excuse what had taken place, believing it just to have been permitted by God - and for our good. Those who did say anything were of excitable dispositions and the two who still remain in the Institute regret that they did not exercise more patience.

The Sisters were asked by some of the parents of their former pupils to continue a school for their children, but this of course they would not do, as they would have considered it an act of opposition to the Bishop's wishes. A few Sisters took situations, some as governesses and others as servants, and they did so to help pay off some debts which were on the Convent - and also to support the young Sisters there, whom they did not wish to see exposed to the dangers of the world.

The Refuge during this time fell into much confusion. There was little work - and no money. Those to whom it was indebted became anxious, and as no collections or subscriptions had come in - they usually did in October - the Sisters had no means of satisfying them. The Penitents also suffered for want of a Spiritual Director. The House of Providence was to have been broken up but that there was a lease on the house; also, the Bishop consented to the Sisters keeping a family of children until they had time to communicate with their father about them.

The Solitude fell into more confusion than any, and this we think was very much the fault of the Sister who had charge of it. She would not take the new Rule herself, but showed a strange carelessness about the old one, and in the end left altogether.



Web Edition 2000
email enquiries to: