Sister Bridgette is one of more than 400 women to have been professed as Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar, and the last to formally serve in a Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle school.
A humble woman with a call to serve others, Sister Bridgette seeks no fanfare as she walks out of the school gates for the last time in her official capacity. In her wake she will leave behind a 137-year tradition of Josephites selflessly supporting our school communities.
“Our Sisters came to the Diocese in 1883 when the Church’s great need was for more religious Sisters and Brothers to staff Catholic schools,” says Sr Patricia Egan, a member of the Congregational Leadership Team. “They joined the Dominican Sisters and Mercy Sisters, who came from Ireland in 1867 and 1875 respectively to work in the Diocese. Sr Bridgette’s retirement marks the end of the era of the formal involvement of Josephites in the Catholic school system.”
As with Sister Bridgette, Sister Patricia started out in a teaching role before taking on administration duties. Sister Patricia taught religion, maths, and science for 18 years during the 1960s and ’70s and says that while the Josephites’ presence in our schools has been declining since then, the Sisters have continued their mission of responding to the needs of people wherever they encounter them.
“Some of the Sisters continue to have a good deal of involvement in the life of school communities in less formal ways,” she says.
Director of Catholic Schools, Gerard Mowbray, says the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar, have deeply influenced his own faith and work, and agrees with Sister Patricia that their legacy will continue in our schools long after Sister Bridgette’s retirement.
“I feel a profound sense of gratitude to the Josephites,” Mr Mowbray says. “I also feel a sadness that these women are no longer a regular presence in our schools; but not a sense of loss, as the Josephite spirit will be ever-present in our schools. The Josephite tradition will see a determined spirit of service, lofty expectations associated with rigour, an unswerving search for what is just, a commitment to meeting the needs of our students and staff and a wonderful spirit of hospitality, all done in a spirit of humble service and prayer.”
In reflecting on the Josephites’ long and valued history in delivering education, Bishop Bill Wright says they were a new and dynamic force in Australian life from their inception in 1866.
“Embracing evangelical poverty in real daily life, very much according to the mindset of Fr Julian Tenison Woods, they were risk-takers, heading off to the remotest of places with the minimum of resources to be where people and especially children were most in need of teachers and religious instruction,” says Bishop Bill. “Many times, the risk-taking backfired, but often enough they struggled through and opened a path in the wilderness for learning and faith.
“When the Bishop of Bathurst basically insisted that the Sisters submit to his rule and perception of how things should be done, most Sisters left the Diocese. Those who stayed, did so, I think, not out of any particular affection for Bishop Quinn, but because they felt a great duty to the place and the people who needed them. In due course, they established the house in Lochinvar (1883) and committed themselves in the same spirit to this Diocese and its people. And that is one of the great marks of our Sisters, that they have been thoroughly part of this place and its Church.
“They have never just done their own thing. They have brought the best of Josephite life into our parish communities, schools, and ministries. They’ve not just been in the Diocese; they’ve been part of the Diocese. And for that, our Church, our parishes, priests and people hold them in the highest regard and owe them a great debt of thanks.”
Sister Lauretta Baker is Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar. “In effect, in these days, God is shaping our Church and religious life anew and freshly,” she says. “We have no deep-seated regrets that our time as school educators is at an end. We have done what we were founded to do. We’ve played our part in the development of an authentically Catholic and strong education system and, with Sister Bridgette’s departure, we gladly complete the process of handing on to others. And so, we rejoice and give thanks and look to the future with courage, for our next challenge”.
Plans are under way for a 2021 community celebration of gratitude for the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar.