GOOD SAMARITAN, SISTERS OF THE

(RGS) 1857

The Institute of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict was founded by Archbishop Polding at Pitt Street, Sydney on 2 February, 1857. It was the first institute of religious women founded in Australia. Until 1866 the sisters were called Good Shepherd Sisters but the title was changed to avoid confusion with an older Order of the same name.

Archbishop’s special concern in colonial Sydney was the care of needy women and permission had been obtained from the Government to set up a women’s refuge in the old Debtors’ Prison at Carters’ Barracks in Pitt Street. The house of the Good Shepherd, as it was called, was opened in 1848 and staffed by the Irish Sisters of Charity with the help of charitable ladies. When two of the Sisters of Charity died within twenty four hours of each other, it was difficult to fill their places since the Sisters of Charity had already undertaken to staff a public hospital, St Vincent’s.

In order to ensure that the House of the Good Shepherd would continue its good work, Dr Polding went ahead to make his own foundation. Five ladies, one English and four Irish, who had immigrated to Australia, began their religious life at Pitt Street under the guidance of Sr.M. Scholastica Gibbons, a Sister of Charity, who continued her work at the shelter.

The Rule was based on the Rule of St Benedict but modified to enable the Sisters to follow an active life of charitable works. Dr Polding, himself an English Benedictine from Downside Abbey in England, instructed the Sisters in the religious life. At Polding’s request, Sr.M. Scholastica Gibbons acted as a Novice Mistress and Superior for twenty years. However, she remained a Sister of Charity and was faithful to her own Rule.

The first Sisters took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for life. In 1866 Polding went to Rome to seek approval for his rules and from 1870 to 1911 the Sisters used the Benedictine formula promising perseverance, conversion of life and obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict, first for a specific number of years then for life. This is the vow formula now used since 1987.

In 1876 Mother Scholastica Gibbons resigned and returned to the Sisters of Charity in Tasmania, leaving the Good Samaritan Sisters to elect their first Superior General, Mother.M. Magdalen Adamson.

As their numbers grew, the Good Samaritans soon extended their work education, to the visitation of the sick and poor. They devoted themselves to the care or orphans and neglected children at the Parramatta Roman Catholic Orphan School, at the Industrial School/Orphanage at Manly and then, in 1910, at Narellan, near Camden. By the eighteen sixties the Sisters were teaching in denominational schools in the inner city- at Sussex Street, Kent Street, Waterloo, Pitt Street and St Mary’s Cathedral Schools. By the eighteen eighties their schools, both primary and secondary, had extended into the suburbs of Sydney- Balmain, Five Dock, Rozelle, Forest Lodge, Chippendale, Newtown, Pyrmont and Marrickville.

In country towns such as Wollongong, Windsor, Braidwood, Queanbeyan, Moruya and Campbelltown, day and boarding schools, primary and secondary, were set up. The Good Samaritans presented some of the first women students for Matriculation long before secondary education was compulsory in New South Wales and graduates of their high schools gained university degrees.

In 1901, plans for the building of Central Railway Station were finalised and the Sisters were given notice to leave Pitt Street because their buildings were to be demolished. With money paid by the government as a compensation, they bought Toxteth House and some of the surrounding Toxteth Park Estate at Glebe and set up St Scholastica’s Convent as their new mother house. St Scholastica’s College was transferred there from Pitt Street and, later, a boarding college was opened. In 1906, St Scholastica’s Teachers’ Training College,which had functioned informally at Pitt Street Convent from the early days of involvement in education, was approved and registered by the Victorian Department of Education. With various name changes and mergers it continued on the Glebe campus until 1983.

The work of the Good Samaritans gradually spread into other States- South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and, more recently to Western Australia. At the end of World War II, the Good Samaritans heeded the call to send missionaries to Japan and 1948 saw the beginning of missions there. The Japanese Sisters in turn sent their missionaries to the Philippines in 1990. The most recent venture of the Good Samaritans is the opening of a Novitiate in Kiribati in 1997.

At every stage their history the Sisters faced difficulties. Every new foundation brought its own problems- shortage of money, shortage of personnel, difficulties with the local church, loneliness and isolation in distant places. Polding wanted the sisters to serve not only in specific ministries such as the care of needy women and education but in any need.

As the changing needs of the Church and of society present new challenges, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, despite aging personnel and decreasing numbers, continue to serve in a variety of ministries, both old and new, in Australia and overseas. Their undertakings at the present time (1997) include education-primary, secondary (day and boarding) and tertiary- liturgical and retreat centres, hospital chaplaincy, parish ministry and ministry to the aged, the sick and the dying, to young migrants, the handicapped, prisoners, homeless young people, aborigines and outback families.

References:

Anonymous Long line and a bright one. Queanbeyan NSW: SGS, 1979

Anonymous Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Manly: centenary of Xtian ed.

Manly: Srs. Good Samaritan, 1980.

Pullen, Imelda Rules of Polding: annotated translation 1867 text

Sydney: Pax, 1982

Birchley, Delia Only love survives: story of the Srs. Good Sam. In Queensland.

Brisbane: Srs. Good Samaritan, 1979.

Fawkner, P. Good Samaritan chapter. Tjurunga Volume 46 (May 1994) pp.15-20.

McEwan, Mary Dominica Living stream resource book: Srs of the Good Samaritan 1857

-1924.

Glebe Point NSW SGS, 1989

McEwan, Mary Dominica Threads in the fabric.

Slattery, Mary Clare Wheeling years: Sisters of the Good Samaritan 1857-1957.

Anonymous A response to the Times. The Beginnings of a History of the

Good Samaritans, Sydney 1984.

McGlynn, M.G. The Growth of the Religious Institute: Some Lists and Statistics Relating to

the History of the Good Samaritan Sisters OSB, 1857-1937, Tjurunga, 39,90-111, 1990.

Fitz-Walter, P.E. `Benedictinism Encountered in Australian Education: A Critical Appraisal of the

Educational Contribution made by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of

Saint Benedict’, thesis (M.Ed.), University of Queensland, 1968.

Birchley, D. Only Love Survives: The Story of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Queensland

1900-1980 Brisbane.

If further information is required about individual Sisters, the following address is given:

The Archivist

Good Samaritan Sisters

Toxteth House

2 Avenue Road

Glebe Point NSW 2037

In writing to the Archivist it would be appropriate that a financial contribution be made for the Archivist’s time and expertise.

Religious Orders or Congregations have released the details on their members. It is understood that the copyright of any material (including the listing of the names of the Sisters) relevant to a particular Order or Congregation in this publication remains with the relevant Order or Congregation.