Two thousand years ago, Jesus told a story set on the winding Jericho road. The story was the much loved parable of the Good Samaritan. It was a story about conflict, injury, need and compassion. It is a story that has been retold and relived for centuries.
One hundred and fifty years ago on the winding streets of colonial Sydney, this story came alive once again.
For some Sydney was a place of a new start, of opportunity and excitement. For others life was extremely hard, particularly for women. Many single mothers struggled to support their family with no social welfare, no state education and often nowhere to live.
Archbishop John Bede Polding a Benedictine monk from Downside Abbey in England, became a good neighbour to these women and to others on the margins, to convicts, the Aboriginal people and abandoned children.
He supported the establishment of a refuge for women, the House of the Good Shepherd. It was run by the Sisters of Charity under the leadership of Mother Scholastica Gibbons.
The future of the refuge was threatened when the Sisters of Charity were no longer able to maintain their ministry.Who would be neighbour to these abused and disadvantaged women?
The crisis brought to the fore Polding’s dream of founding a new religious congregation of women which would combine Benedictine spirituality with practical charity for the poor and those on the margins.
Five women came together on February 2, 1857 to found the first Australian congregation, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.
These five women, diverse in age, personality and experience, began living a way of life characterised by a commitment to prayer, loving support in community, and a real concern for the poor and needy. They were five women with a passion for Jesus and his Good News.
Mother Scholastica Gibbons guided the sisters during their early years. Scholastica remained a faithful Sister of Charity. She was always deeply loved by her Good Samaritan Sisters.
The Rule of Benedict, a spiritual treasure dating from the sixth century, guided the first Good Samaritan Sisters and the hundreds that followed them. The sisters took this Rule and put their own Australian stamp on it.
Rather than following a European style of enclosed monastic living, the Good Samaritans were to be in Polding’s words, missionary Benedictines, pushing their neighbourhood boundaries in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
Their neighbourhood soon opened out beyond Sydney to embrace other cities and rural areas of Australia.
In time, the Good Sams answered the call to respond to the urgent social needs and the spiritual hungers of people in Japan, the Philippines and Kiribati. The practical wisdom of Benedict’s Rule nourished an expanding global neighbourhood.