The Sisters sharing the history of Mary MacKillop and leaving a legacy

The Sisters sharing the history of Mary MacKillop and leaving a legacy
Kaylah Joelle Baker

As Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre approaches its quarterly Open Day on August 6, the Sisters of Saint Joseph at the centre are working hard to share the story of Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop.

The centre at 362 Albert St, East Melbourne, is the fourth Providence building where Mary and the Sisters of Saint Joseph looked after destitute women, boarded young country women, schooled children and provided night school for young men.

“The main building of the centre was the original Providence and then 20 years later the house next door was purchased, but the number of destitute women were few so the main building became the Convent and the bought one was for country girls,” Mary MacKilliop Heritage Centre volunteer Patricia Williams said.

“The idea was that they could stay there for a year and find their city feet, and it gave them time to adjust to being in the city. But it closed in 1996 because there was not the same need.”

Dedicating more than 60 years to the work of the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre, which is now a museum and a chapel, Patricia is a wealth of knowledge and in charge of conducting the guided walking tours on the Open Day.

“When I retired in 2017, I volunteered to be a volunteer support because I noticed volunteers are not always supported and resourced to do what is asked of them, but when that no longer worked out I stayed on with other tasks,” Patricia said.

“Now I do a lot of the leg work by showing groups around, researching a lot of the history on this place and doing the guided walks on Open Day to the four Providences which have become very significant.”

The hour-and-a-half walks have been carefully planned by Patricia.

As well as taking people around to all four Providences that have been marked with plaques she also organised, the walking tours include historical facts about the city in the late 19th century when it was “Mary MacKillop’s Melbourne”.

This love for learning and helping teach others is something Patricia has had since a very young age.

Growing up in the country and having to move into her grandmother’s home with her parents and five siblings when her father went broke, Patricia wasn’t granted a schoolg education.

But when her younger siblings started going to the local Sisters of Saint Joseph school she learnt more about Mary MacKillop and giving her life to God, and she wanted to seek an education.

“My own education was pretty horrible, and I thought maybe I could do something by way of a better education and contribute to helping others,” Patricia said.

“I came into the Convent and did training, then two years of religious training and then teacher training on top of this which was very good.”

Teaching for 30 years before becoming a pastoral assistant and then involving herself in The MacKillop Institute’s Seasons for Growth educational program, Patricia is an example of the women dedicated to living out Mary’s legacy.

“We don’t have the same number of people joining now but we have done our job and held the system together for one hundred years,” she said.

“If there are no Sisters of Saint Joseph anymore, it won’t matter because the work goes on through the MacKillop Family Services and I think we have been the forerunners for lots of things that will continue.”

Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre’s August 6 Open Day will be from 10am to 4pm, with another opening on November 26. •

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