Mary MacKillop's Adelaide

Trail curated by: The Adelaide City Explorer Team & Mary MacKillop Centre Adelaide

Mary Helen MacKillop was born in Melbourne on 15 January 1842. The eldest of eight children of Scottish migrants, Mary worked from an early age to help support her family. At the age of 18, Mary moved to Penola, South Australia to become a governess. Here she met Father Julian Tenison Woods. Father Woods and Mary shared a passion for assisting the poor. Together they founded a new Religious Order, the Sisters of St Joseph (also known as Josephites), to bring Catholic education to the children of working-class and rural families of Australia.

In 1867, Father Woods was appointed the Director-General of Catholic Education in Adelaide. In June of that year, Mary and her companion Rose Cunningham left Penola and came to Adelaide to assist him. They were the first Religious women (nuns) in South Australia.

Mary lived in the heart of the city for five years, establishing schools and charitable institutions on well-known Adelaide streets. Some of the most rewarding and challenging moments of her life were during her time in the city, including her brief excommunication from the Catholic Church.

The Sisters worked tirelessly to establish schools across suburban and rural South Australia. As the Order grew, the work of the Sisters of St Joseph also expanded to include caring for aged, homeless women; orphans; former female prisoners and prostitutes in the city.

By the time of Mary’s death in 1909, the Sisters of St Joseph were working across Australia and New Zealand to assist those most in need.

This trail traces just some of the places that were part of Mary MacKillop’s time here in the city, and the remarkable work and life of Australia’s first Saint.

Locations for Trail

Mary MacKillop arrived in Adelaide in June 1867. She and the Sisters of St Joseph assumed responsibility for the city’s first Josephite school on Wakefield Street. Over the next ten years, three further Josephite schools were established in the…

Following her arrival in the city in June 1867, Mary and another Sister took up residence in Pelham Cottage. This was the home of Miss Ellen McMullen, one of the first women to join the Sisters of St Joseph. Although its exact location is unknown, it…

Under Father Woods' guidance, schools were established throughout the Colony. The work of the Sisters expanded to include caring for the city's aged, homeless and destitute. Mary and the Sisters of St Joseph regularly visited the residents of the…

The St Vincent de Paul's Orphanage for Catholic children was established at Walkerville in 1866. By 1868, issues of overcrowding saw the need for expansion. Accommodation was found at the southern end of King William Street. The Sisters of St Joseph…

A Catholic school known as St Romuald’s was established on Russell Street in 1876. Housed in what were originally the stables for a nearby soap and candle factory, this school was conducted by a lay teacher. In 1877, the Sisters of St Joseph took…

The 'Archbishop’s House', on the corner of West Terrace and Grote Street, is one of the earliest surviving Roman Catholic buildings in South Australia. Following his arrival in 1844, Adelaide's first bishop, Francis Murphy, organised the…

For the first four years of European settlement in South Australia, there was no Catholic priest or permanent place of worship for the colony’s Catholic settlers. The first resident priest was Father William Benson, who arrived in 1841. Father…

In November 1871, the Franklin Street Convent, Schoolroom and Chapel were transferred to the Dominican Sisters. By 1897, over 200 students were enrolled at the school, and plans began for a new wing to accommodate the growing enrolment numbers.…

Father Woods and Mary established the first House of Providence in 1868. Located in a small rented cottage on the corner of West Terrace and Franklin Street, the House of Providence - also known as St Joseph's Providence - was the first charitable…

Within West Terrace Cemetery are the graves of a number of prominent South Australians who were an important part of Mary’s time in Adelaide. Located in the Catholic section of the cemetery is Smyth Memorial Chapel. The octagonal-shaped chapel was…

From 1872-1883, Mary lived at Kensington and established a school in that suburb. In 1883, Bishop Reynolds banished her from Adelaide and she moved to Sydney. She spent time in Victoria and New Zealand establishing the Order’s presence there, and…
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