Mother Xavier Williams
On the last day of the year 1838 the first five Female Religious ever to set foot on Australian soil, landed in Sydney after a long sea voyage from Ireland. They were Sisters of Charity – sent by their Founder, Mother Mary Aikenhead – and among the group was one who was still a novice, Sister Xavier Williams.
Sister Xavier Williams was destined to write a few pages in the Australian History:
The first Female Religious to make public Profession of Vows in the young Colony.
A member of the group of three to sail across Bass Strait in June 1847 to pioneer Convent Life and Ministry in Hobart, Tasmania.
She is named in records as the first Religious Principal of a Tasmania school – St Joseph’s Girls’ School, in Macquarie Street.
In the early years the Sisters visited and instructed the Catholic female convicts at the Cascades Female Factory and H.M.S. Anson; patients in the Hospital; the poor and sick in their homes and the orphans in the Queen’s orphanage at New Town.
In 1871 Sister Xavier Williams became the Mother Superior of the Tasmanian Sisters of Charity and when the Government orphanage closed she was very concerned about the future of those still in need of care. She was able to purchase an office block opposite the convent in Harrington Street and opened St Joseph’s Orphanage in 1879.
The year 1889 was the year of her Golden Jubilee and of her eighty ninth birthday. Her photograph taken at that time shows a gently-aged lady who had endured much and loved greatly. She then began negotiations for amalgamation with the Sisters of Charity in Sydney, and when that became a reality she gracefully retired to wait the call from God whom she had served so faithfully. It came on 8 April 1892, and hundreds of people mourned the passing of their friends.