The founding four Sisters of the Lochinvar congregation came from Perthville in 1883. They arrived in Lochinvar on 2 September 1883 and began school the next day. Lochinvar was the first Josephite school established in the Diocese, at the inn where the Sisters lived.
Ministry in some 60 other schools followed, not only through the length and breadth of this Diocese but “across the border” in the Lismore Diocese and Sydney Archdiocese, as well as, at times, in Canberra, Townsville and Papua New Guinea.
The Sisters established schools mainly in far-flung rural areas and working-class suburbs. They were able to do that because as Josephites they had the flexibility to live in twos or threes in small cottages, rather than in large imposing convents.
As well as parish primary and secondary schools the Sisters established boarding schools for girls in Lochinvar, Taree, Denman, and Port Macquarie and for small boys in Aberdeen, Cundletown and Wauchope. At times they were also involved in “motor missions” to rural areas and Religion by Correspondence for children in remote areas without Catholic schools.
When the first Sisters came to Lochinvar in 1883, NSW had just withdrawn state aid for denominational schools. Catholic schools would not have existed without religious Sisters and Brothers to staff them.
When the Sisters opened their first branch house school in Merriwa in 1885, the parish could not afford to pay them, but families agreed to support them in kind. One family promised to supply bread, another milk, another eggs, another vegetables, and another meat. This continued for generations.
Strong bonds of mutual support and friendship grew between the Sisters and those they served. Parents helped coach sports teams and take children to inter-school carnivals and excursions.
With no ancillary staff, the Sisters and the pupils worked hard to ensure they did well in their public exams, and kept the schools spotless. Parishioners who taught in local state schools often passed on “second-hand” resources they no longer needed.
In the early 1960s, protests against the injustice of Catholic taxpayers not receiving any government aid to educate their children resulted in state aid being restored to Catholic schools, enabling them to employ lay teachers.
Religious took the Second Vatican Council’s call to aggiornamento (update) and ressourcement (return to the sources) seriously and this influenced the Sisters’ way of life. The change from the traditional religious habit and veil was a visible sign.
As the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church was emphasised more – a young Catholic did not now have to become a Sister or Brother to teach in a Catholic School – the numbers entering religious life began to decline.
With these changes in religious life after Vatican II, separation of convent life and the management of the Sisters’ affairs became essential.
In 1992, St Joseph’s, Lochinvar, amalgamated with St Peter’s and St Mary’s at Maitland to form All Saints’ College. In 2010, the drive to extend the Lochinvar campus of All Saints’ College to Year 12 gathered momentum. More of the Sisters’ land was being sought to cater for the bigger campus, and in 2018 it returned to its former, single identity of St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar.
Faithful to their strong commitment to education, and facing the reality of their own frailty and decreasing numbers, the Sisters negotiated with the Diocese over the sale of the land and the buildings they occupied. These negotiations were completed in October 2016 and one year later, in late-November 2017, the congregational administration centre moved to Warners Bay.
Today, most of the Sisters live within the Greater Newcastle area, and maintain a presence in the Maitland, Upper Hunter, and Manning regions. Eight Sisters continue to live in community at Lochinvar. They are deeply involved in parish life, warmly welcoming of anyone who comes knocking at their door, and still have a good deal of informal involvement in the life of St Joseph’s College.
Many of the Sisters’ students have carried on the work of Catholic education initially established at Lochinvar. They share the Josephite charism and the Sisters of St Joseph are grateful for the efforts they make to ensure the values they cherished continue to characterise the schools that carry their name, especially the tradition of caring for the most needy and disadvantaged children and their families.