Founding Story

Founding Story

We are a group of women who live in religious community. We seek to centre our lives on God through living contemplatively. Through our various ministries we aim to give concrete expression to God’s compassionate care for all people and the whole of creation.

In Ireland in the 1870s people were still suffering from the after effects of the Great Famine. It was in this social context of poverty and great suffering, that a group of Irish Sisters of Bon Secours led by Bridget Clancy, (Sr Visitation), together with Bishop Thomas Furlong founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St John of God. Here the tiny seeds of the St John of God Congregation took root on the 7th October 1871.

Bridget Clancy (Sr Visitation) and Bishop Thomas Furlong
 

Today there are branches of that tree scattered across Ireland, Australia, Pakistan and England, still bearing ‘much fruit’.

While Health Care and Education were our primary concern for many years, in recent decades we are engaged in a variety of other ministries including involvement in Retreat Centres, engagement in Spiritual Direction, Counselling, Pastoral Care, Parish Work and care for the elderly in Aged Care facilities, Health Outreach Programs, HIV/Aids support programs, to name but a few.

Wexford Convent
 

Starting from a small house in Wexford, the Sisters were joined by several other young women. Some of the first Sisters of the Congregation were experienced nurses, having trained in France with the Sisters of Bon Secours. Soon after their arrival in Wexford they began to nurse the sick in their own homes, attending to the needs of both rich and poor alike.

In 1873 the Sisters took up appointments in the Infirmary of the Wexford Union Workhouse. Workhouses were residential institutions, established by the British Government’s "Poor Relief (Ireland) Act”1838. They provided accommodation for destitute adults and children. They were indeed grim places. After the Famine, they were the last resort for poor people, and at enormous cost in terms of human dignity and self-respect. The Sisters of St. John of God undertook this work at a time when Workhouse employment was repugnant to many in the population.

By 1875 the Sisters were nursing in a number of Workhouses; Wexford, New Ross, Enniscorthy and Castlecomer. That same year they commenced teaching in the Faythe School, Wexford. The seeds of the Congregation continued to grow and spread across southern Ireland. Then in 1895 a group of eight Sisters ventured on the long journey to Australia, at the invitation of Bishop Gibney, – to attend to the needs of the sick in the Diocese of Perth. Within a short time they were nursing miners with typhoid on the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie a distance of some 600 kilometres north east of Perth. In 1907 they journeyed into the remote Kimberley Region of Western Australia where they provided health care and education services for rich and poor alike. They had particular affiliation with the predominantly indigenous population and the Japanese families especially the Pearl Divers.

In the 1920s the Sisters moved to England where their main concern was the provision of Catholic Education. The mission in Nigeria was opened in 1960 and the Sisters remained there until deported at the end of the Biafran War. The Sisters later went to West Cameroon in 1974, where again they were engaged in Health Care, Education and Community and Faith Development until 2004.

Founding Sisters Pakistan
 

In 1980, at the invitation of Bishop Armando Trindade, four Sisters from the Australian Province went to Sialkot, Pakistan to staff Bethania Hospital which was founded to serve the poor, particularly those suffering from tuberculosis. To the present time the Sisters continue their ministry of education,  health care and social outreach in Pakistan.

Our most recent mission to South Africa where we work specifically with people with HIV/Aids, supporting their families and Home-based Carers. The Sisters worked in the diocese of Tzaneen from September 2004 to November 2013.

Health Care, Education, ocial Outreach and Pastoral Care have been the primary ministries of the Congregation since its foundation in 1871.