Our Beginnings In Australia

Twenty four years following the foundation of the Congregation in Wexford, Bishop Matthew Gibney of Western Australia sent a request to the Sisters of St John of God in Ireland seeking Sisters to minister to the sick, and attend to the pastoral and social needs of the people entrusted to his care.

The young colony of Western Australia was in great need. The increase in population due to the gold rush in Western Australia and the economic depression in the Eastern Colonies, together with the shortage of fresh water and lack of adequate sanitary facilities, had resulted in severe outbreaks of typhoid.

Eight Sisters of St John of God responded to the call for help and made the journey from Ireland on board the RSM Orizaba, arriving in Albany, on the south west coast of Western Australia on 23rd of November 1895. Arriving in Perth on 25th November 1895, the Sisters’ first residence was in Adelaide Terrace, which became home and hospital as they assisted those in need in whatever way they could.

The Sisters at their first residence at Adelaide Terrace 1896

These eight women, now known as the Pioneer Sisters, established the Sisters of St John of God in Australia. Their average age was thirty years and their names are:

  • Ellen Dunne - Sister M Cecilia
  • Bridget O'Brien - Sister M Antonio
  • Helena Brennan - Sister M Angela
  • Margaret Kenny - Sister M Magdalene
  • Veronica Hanlon - Sister M Bridget
  • Bridget Gleeson - Sister M Ita
  • Julia Gleeson - Sister M John
  • Mary Hanley - Sister M Assumpta

In 1907, another small group of Sisters of St John of God, again at Bishop Gibney’s request, travelled to Beagle Bay in the far north of Western Australia to minister to the people of the Kimberley. They were the first group of women religious to enter that region.

The first home of the Sisters in Australia, Adelaide Terrace, Perth

Over the years the original Sisters were joined by other women from both Ireland and Australia, so that the number of Sisters gradually increased.