On February 2, 1857, the first Australian Catholic religious congregation, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, was born. Founded in Sydney by Archbishop John Bede Polding, an English-born Benedictine monk, and Mother Scholastica Gibbons, an Irish-born Sister of Charity, the congregation came into being with just five sisters.
Earlier this month, on February 2, around 150 people gathered for evening prayer in St Scholastica’s Chapel, Glebe, Sydney, to give thanks for that humble but significant beginning 160 years ago, and to celebrate the many expressions of Good Samaritan life and mission that have followed.
“We come here today to celebrate 160 years since our foundation with hearts full of thankfulness and joy,” Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon told those gathered.
“We come with an uncertainty about the nature of our future, just like our forebears did. But we come together as sisters, oblates, partners in ministry, parishioners and friends, with trust and confidence.
“We acknowledge that if we are to be prophetic for our time, which is the fundamental calling of religious life in the Church, then changes beyond our contrivance are before us daily.”
In her address, Clare reflected on the words of Polding who, at an event in 1870, compared the birth and growth of the congregation to that of a “little plant” that had “become a noble tree”.
“Like the ‘noble tree’ that Archbishop Polding saw, we live an organic life,” said Clare.
“Branches fall away, parts of it even die, new shoots emerge. But the solid trunk of our Benedictine tradition, together with the Gospel holds us together and keeps us strong and firm.”
“So let us this day resolve to be open to the new shoots, to nurture them, protect them and allow them to flourish,” Clare continued.
“But may we also have the confidence and trust in God to allow the dead branches to fall away, to let go. May we allow the Gospel and the tradition to guide us and to stand firm so we too can continue to produce good fruit, as we in this Chapter Gathering year attend to our vision and directions for the future.”
Following evening prayer, guests moved to the garden outside Toxteth House, the Sisters’ current Congregational Centre, for refreshments. Among the guests were Dame Marie Bashir, former Governor of NSW, the Honorable Tanya Plibersek, Federal Member for Sydney and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity, Sister Clare Nolan.
The 160th anniversary of the Good Samaritan Sisters was not the only milestone celebrated earlier this month. Rosebank College, Five Dock, in Sydney’s inner west, which was established by the Sisters a decade after their foundation, is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary.
At their opening Mass for the school year on February 10, the Feast of St Scholastica, the College community formally commenced their 150th anniversary celebrations.
College Principal Tom Galea said this first event was a “celebration of all who were involved with the founding of Rosebank College”.
“In so doing, we welcomed over 80 guests, many of whom were Sisters of the Good Samaritan who either attended, worked and/or served the College in past decades. We also welcomed the Sisters of Charity who continue the work of their order.”
After Mass, those gathered witnessed the unveiling and blessing of a sculpture of Mother Scholastica Gibbons, who is buried in the Sisters’ cemetery in the grounds of the College.
“Now standing proudly in front of the new building is the statue of Mother Scholastica and two of our students,” said Tom.
“The sculpture was produced by Sydney-based artists Gillie and Marc Schattner and attempts to provide a continuity of leadership and mission over the 150 years.”
A number of celebrations are planned for Rosebank’s sesquicentenary year, including a Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on June 16 and a Gala Dinner on July 29.
“When staff were asked about the upcoming celebrations, they responded by saying they felt honoured, privileged, inspired, affirmed, proud and responsible,” said Tom.
“This captures much of the excitement and expectation for the year ahead.”