Sister Catherine (Kathleen) Ellis

Kathleen was the eldest child of James and Catherine Ellis of Castlemaine in Victoria. In the early 1920’s Mr Ellis was appointed as Headmaster of a western suburbs school in Melbourne and the family took up residence in Essendon.

On the first day of the school year, Mr Ellis took his five school aged children to enrol them at near-by St Columba’s College in Essendon, run by the Sisters of Charity. To the Sister who answered the door, he explained the necessity of his hurrying off to his new job, but assured her that Kathleen would be able to provide all the necessary details. The Sister said she understood, and told the children to sit on the veranda seat. They sat there until lunch time when they were fortunately rescued by another Sister coming from school to the convent for her mid-day meal!

After Matriculation Kathleen entered the State Teachers’ College, and taught for a year, before answering the call to Religious Life and the Sisters of Charity where she was known as Sister Catherine. After her Religious Profession in 1932 she returned to Essendon as the Infant School teacher at St Teresa’s School. By this time her youngest brother, Frank, was in second class and very happy to embarrass her in such matters as being asked to take notes home to parents.

Sister Catherine moved on to being Principal of St Teresa’s and remained there until 1944 when she was transferred to St Vincent’s College in Potts Point. Some few years later she was appointed Rectress of St Joseph’s Orphanage in Hobart. Following a six year term there, she went as Superior of the Lewisham Convent; a member of the Leadership Team; and a short time at Strathmore, setting up a Community there, before returning to her great love – the Orphanage in Hobart.

In 1963 fourteen boys, up to nine years of age, were accommodated. This was the first move in a long range plan to keep children of a family together. Sister Catherine now became interested in the idea of replacing Orphanages with Group Homes and bought a home in a Hobart suburb to which she moved seven children including brothers and sisters, and employed House Parents to care for them.

Two more of these Group Homes were set up in other suburbs and in 1968 Sister Catherine’s dream came true. The Commonwealth Government made an offer to purchase the Orphanage building in Harrington Street. She bought the beautiful property at Taroona which had been the home of Dr Boot, added a Chapel to the main house, and built three separate homes for the twenty one remaining children.

In 1971 Sister Catherine experienced the sacrificial element of her Vow of Obedience when she was asked to leave the work so dear to her and take up the position of Congregational Bursar.