Nearly 60 years ago, the first Sisters of St Joseph arrived in the town of Wyndham in East Kimberley, Western Australia. The Sisters immediately started teaching eager students, using the Church as a classroom until a school was constructed. In the decades following, the Sisters built strong connections with generations of people from all walks of life and expanded their work to many surrounding communities.
Recently, Maria, our Australia Programs Group Leader, and Jane, CEO, were invited by Sisters Alma, Theresa, and Julianne to visit and talk about the future of the Josephite presence in the East Kimberley. Their experience and reflection was focused on potential opportunities for Mary MacKillop Today to support a Josephite legacy amongst communities in the region.
Maria shared, “We went on this trip with the intention of being present and listening to the heartbeat of the Sisters in the East Kimberley. And listening to the voices of the community. The Sisters are incredibly strong women. They are truly part of the community. They walk alongside the people in the community. We learnt a lot about what the word ‘leadership’ really means here. Community members explained that it’s about having a voice. And being able to make decisions for themselves as individuals, families, and whole communities.”
During their trip, Maria and Jane were able to see the Sisters at work across a variety of activities including education and leadership. They had the chance to visit some of the dynamic schools which have flourished since their humble beginnings when Sisters started teaching local students under a tree.
The Sisters set up these schools with the community at the forefront of their minds. Today, where possible, the lessons are taught in both the local Aboriginal language and English. There’s a real focus on authentic connection with students and families that is culturally safe, and trauma informed. A sign out the front of one school reads ‘We connect before we correct…We see you, we hear you, we are with you.’
Sr Julianne travels, from time to time, to the schools with a special Mary MacKillop puppet to tell stories about her life. The children love it! It’s such a fun and interactive way for students to learn about who Mary is and what she did.
Maria described, “The schools were just so full of energy. The kids were so alive! They were engaging with the teachers, who were clearly committed and passionate, and learning in creative ways. There was real excitement and enthusiasm in the classrooms.”
The schools operate now with the support of Catholic Education Western Australia and the Sisters focus their presence on strengthening community life.
One of the best things about the way the Sisters work is their genuine presence. They are right there with people, listening to people, just as Saint Mary envisioned.
Mary’s legacy is truly alive today. Mary MacKillop Today now has the challenge of planning for what this legacy will become into the future in communities like those in the East Kimberley. We ask for your prayerful support as we undertake this journey and all its possibilities.