St Mary of the Cross Mackillop The Temuka Story

The foundation of Josephites in Temuka is traced back to an 1873 meeting between Frs Julian Tenison Woods and Louis Fauvel SM at Villa Maria in Sydney. Fr Tenison Woods talked to Fr Fauvel about a congregation of sisters he had founded with St Mary MacKillop. These sisters were dedicated to St Joseph and now worked in rural Australia.

Fr Fauvel was needing teachers to educate the children of growing Temuka families, so he asked St Mary MacKillop to provide sisters for the school. After much correspondence, three sisters arrived on 1 November 1883, marking the first foundation made by the congregation outside Australia.

Sydney Statue Mary Mac Killop
Sculpture of St Mary MacKillop in Mary MacKillop Plaza, St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide, South Australia. Sculpture by Judith Rolevink, 2009

Monday 12 November was the opening day for St Joseph’s school, Temuka. Ninety pupils had been enrolled before the sisters arrived. Before long, more sisters arrived to take up teaching positions in Kerrytown, Pleasant Point, Morven, Waimate and eventually in Fairlie, as the number of schools staffed by the sisters spread throughout both the North and South Islands.

The sisters of the South Island were photographed with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, outside the Temuka Church on 10 January 1895, during her first visit to New Zealand. She was also present at the blessing and opening of the two-storey convent, erected in 1897. There is a stained-glass window honouring her in Temuka’s Church of St Joseph. After 111 years, a liturgy was held for the closure of the Temuka convent, on 17 May 2009. While the sisters would continue to be a presence in the parish, it was the end of an era.

On 17 October 2010, Mary Mackillop was canonised by

Pope Benedict in Rome and is known as St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. She is Australia’s first saint. She came to New Zealand four times, loved the country and the people and was dedicated to supporting tangata whenua, as well as children who needed a Catholic education.

Mary MacKillop had an extraordinary capacity to work in the way that the spirit of wisdom works. For within her was a spirit that was at once, intelligent, holy, friendly to human beings, steadfast and dependable. It was deep in the heart of Jesus that she found her own heart. Indeed she wrote: “When storms rage, when persecutions or dangers threaten, I quietly creep into its deep abyss, and securely sheltered there, my soul is at peace though my body is tossed upon the stormy seas of a cold and selfish world.”

Mary Mackillop RHA 182 Temuka South Canterbury 1895 cropped 300x200 1
The sisters of the South Island with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, outside the Temuka Church on 10 January 1895
Mary Mackillop
Watercolour of St Mary Mackillop by Emma Malone

It is in the context of “journey”, especially for young people that her legacy is important. One of the sayings on Mary MacKillop’s tomb at Mount Street in North Sydney, reads “Remember we are but travellers here.” She carried with her a conviction that she was on a journey through life with God as her constant companion, the one to whom she could turn to at every point along the way.

After 141 years, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart have left the parish of Temuka. Over the years, 40 women entered the congregation and served the Church in many country places, both here and in Australia. May the spirit of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop continue to inspire us as we journey through life in a changing world.

by Sr Eleanor Capper RSJ

Published in Inform Issue 141 - Winter 2024