Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Johanna Curtain, Mother Mary of Mt Carmel

1835-1888

Nun, third Mother Superior of the Convent of the Good Shepherd

Personal Photo 1

Sister Mary of Mt Carmel Curtain arrived in Melbourne in July 1867 with three other nuns to join the community of the Convent of the Good Shepherd at Abbotsford which had been set up in 1863 under the leadership of Mother Mary of St Joseph Doyle.  Sister Mary of Mt Carmel became the third Prioress or Mother Superior in 1873 and was to remain in that position until her death in 1888.

Sister Mary Curtain had been professed as a Sister of the Order of the Good Shepherd in 1859 at the mother house in Angers, France. She arrived at Abbotsford with a good knowledge of the organisation of commercial laundries which was to prove very important for the growth and continuation of the Convent. The laundry contributed much needed income to support the sisters’ work of providing refuge to women who sought admission to the Convent as well as supporting younger women who were deemed by society at the time to be at risk of abuse and exploitation.

She was a practical woman with very good organisational skills. Now Mother Mary of Mt Carmel, she was at the helm for 15 years of consolidation and expansion of the Convent of the Good Shepherd. During her period as Mother Superior a hospital was built, St Euphrasia’s Day School was established to educate Catholic girls and early primary boys from the Abbotsford area, the Memorial Chapel was enlarged and eventually became a Church, the laundry continued to expand, and a new Convent was established in Oakleigh in 1883. The Reformatory school was transferred to Oakleigh. In 1886 four sisters went from Abbotsford to Christchurch, New Zealand to establish the first community of Good Shepherd nuns in that country.  

In 1880 there were 518 inhabitants and the 27-acre site with its crops and livestock provided much of their food, as well as some produce for the local community. Bread was baked and jam was made on the premises.

John Stanley James, an influential journalist who used the name of ‘The Vagabond’ wrote in 1877 after a visit to the Convent: ‘… I am no friend of the Church of Rome and any compliments I may pay the Nuns at Abbotsford are forced from me by admiration of the true spirit of Christian charity with which they go about their work – to comfort the sick, to raise the fallen, are Heaven-ordained duties’. He felt overall that, though the residents and inmates were subjected to a rigorous, disciplined way of life it was ‘softened by the kind womanly sympathy of the nuns, who look on the fallen ones – not as lost souls, but as strayed sheep, whom it is their duty and pleasure to gather to the fold of the Good Shepherd, for here and hereafter.’ He urged the people of Victoria, whatever their creed or class, to support the work at Abbotsford. This was a major public relations coup for the convent in the anti-Catholic climate of the times, and given the limited understanding of the work carried on by the nuns. The sisters were relieved and described his article as ‘really just and laudatory’.

Mother Mary of Mt Carmel, in continuing and expanding the work started by Mother Mary of St Joseph, was instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Convent and the growth of the order in Australia. She epitomised the Sisters who were strong women, with resilience and passion that saw them through the toughest times to fulfil their vision of helping those in need. It was from the base at Abbotsford that Good Shepherd Convents were established in New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and New Zealand.  She died in 1888 and her memorial plaque can be seen on the floor of the church in the convent at Abbotsford.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1835 Waterford, Ireland
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Clarke Street Abbotsford Part demolished
Church Lodge
Catholic
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
17 April 1888 Abbotsford Crypt of the Church of the Immaculate Conception
Sources

Kovesi, Pitch your tents on distant shores; James,The Vagabond Papers; The Argus; Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit
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