Mary Aikenhead believed that one of the ways to break the cycle of poverty was through education.
With little knowledge about running schools the Sisters, with the help of the Christian Brothers, began to establish schools and a Government School Book was written by one of the Sisters.
This book helped form future Sisters as teachers probably including the first five Sisters to come to Australia – Mother John Cahill, and Sisters Francis de Sales O’Brien, John Baptist De Lacy, Lawrence Cater, and Francis Xavier Williams.
These were well-educated women with teaching skills who began the educational ministry of the Sisters of Charity in Australia.
They taught convict women embroidery and laundry skills at Parramatta, New South Wales. In this way they hoped they were lifting the women’s prospects of obtaining domestic employment on their release.
The Sisters quickly became involved in bringing greater order to the already existing schools in the colony and eventually became responsible for the management of some. Three of the pioneer Sisters moved to Hobart in 1847 and began St Joseph’s School.
Another early significant foundation was St Vincent’s College at Potts Point NSW, one of the oldest girls’ schools in Australia which began its life as a primary school in 1858. This establishment became possible after purchasing the Tarmons property at Potts Point in 1856 where St Vincent’s Hospital was first founded in 1857.
As a result of the growing number of young women who joined the Sisters of Charity. a network of schools was established in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. These included parish primary schools, secondary colleges, several boarding schools and orphanages. A teachers’ college to train the Sisters was set up in Sydney and Sisters gradually undertook university qualifications which allowed much diversification in our educational ministries.
To learn more about the later work of the Sisters of Charity in education, click here.