Notable People of Collingwood

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Bridget Doyle, Mother Mary of St Joseph

1835-1869

Nun, founder of the Convent of the Good Shepherd Abbotsford, first Mother Superior

Personal Photo 1
Bridget aged about 22
Personal Photo 2

Bridget Doyle, born in Roscrea (County Tipperary) Ireland in 1835, grew up in Rahan (County Cork) during the Famine Years 1847-50. In the late 1850s she entered the Order of the Good Shepherd in Angers, France. She led a party of four nuns to Melbourne in June 1863 at the invitation of Bishop James Goold, who believed that ‘A penitentiary for Females and a juvenile reformatory for girls are much needed.' The little band of sisters immediately set about looking for a suitable house in which to establish their Convent of the Good Shepherd.

Mother Mary of St Joseph wrote in her journal:

One day we came to a property about three miles from town, which we decided would suit our work. The place had been untenanted for two years: the dwelling was large and handsome with fine lofty rooms and veranda all round and a tempting garden by the Yarra’s bank, with fine fruit trees, peaches, pears, apricots, apples, lemons, grapes and mulberry trees, under which were violets growing so profusely that the air was scented with them.

This was Abbotsford House, built in the early 1840s by John Orr. The property consisting of six acres and an unoccupied house was purchased for £3,500. Bishop Goold donated £1,000, on the condition that he could later build a church on the property.  So Mother Mary became the first Mother Superior of the Abbotsford Good Shepherd Convent.  She quickly set about raising funds and establishing the Convent to carry out the heart of the Good Shepherd mission, that of providing refuge for women deemed outcasts of society.

The Order of the Good Shepherd Sisters had been founded in Angers in 1835 by Mother Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, who would be canonised by Pope Pius XII in 1940. The order’s purpose was to provide shelters and refuges for women. Today the Sisters continue fulfilling the vision of helping those in need, in over 73 countries.

The nuns welcomed their first penitent on 26 September 1863, and by the end of 12 months a total of 29 women had been accepted. Most stayed for a short period only, leaving to marry, work, or return to their families. In 1864 the Sisters’ work expanded to children, first with a Reformatory School and before long with an Industrial School. These provided some Government income, though inadequate for their needs, and a commercial laundry was established to help offset their increasing costs. There was also a Preservation Class for girls at risk, who were sent to the nuns by their parents.

In September, 1865 the Sisters acquired neighbouring St Helier’s, from Edward Currs widow. This property with a picturesque residence and a further sixteen hectares of orchards, paddocks and gardens was purchased for £4,000. The sisters now had a substantial debt and Mother Mary of St Joseph was suffering from increasing bouts of fever and fatigue, but the burden on the original four Sisters was eased with the arrival of more nuns from Ireland and local girls who joined the Convent.

To raise the necessary funds to sustain the Convent and its works there were Grand Bazaars held in St George’s Hall, Bourke Street. These would run over four days with numerous stalls and musical entertainment, and became an annual institution.  The Catholic laity also supplied many essential items for the Convent and charity sermons were preached in various parishes to raise money. 

Mother Mary of St Joseph Doyle, as the first Prioress, laid the foundation of the Good Shepherd Convent and what was to become its ongoing work with neglected and criminal children and ‘fallen’ women. The Advocate on 19 June 1869 paid tribute to Mother Mary after her death as ‘a kind, gentle & sagacious guide and chief … a champion of morality, and a mirror of that purity which is the brightest jewel of her sex …’  Mother Mary of St Joseph was buried at the Abbotsford Convent. But in 1975 her remains along with the other pioneering nuns were transferred to Boroondara Cemetery and laid to rest in the Abbotsford community plot there.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1835 Roscrea, County Tipperary, Ireland
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Clarke Street Abbotsford Houses demolished
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
3 June 1869 Abbotsford Boroondara (re-interred)
Sources

Kovesi, Pitch your tents on distant shores, Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruitThe ArgusSydney Morning HeraldThe Advocate.

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