St Mary MacKillop has a special connection with our school and the Portland district.
Mary Mackillop's parents were born in Scotland and came to live in Australia. Mary was born on 15 January 1842 in Melbourne. She had three sisters and four brothers. The family relocated to Portland in the 1860's and a young Mary taught at All Saints Primary School before going to Penola.
In June 1862, Mary, aged 20, made her way to Portland to be governess to the daughters of Mrs.Duncan Cameron, a relative of the MacKillop family. Mary lived with the widowed Mrs. Cameron and her children at their home, Fitzroy Cottage.
Mary gained a teaching position at Common School 510, which became All Saints Primary School in October 1863. This was Nary’s first formal teaching position. She taught at this school for almost two years, developing teaching and organisational skills which were to stand her in good stead in the future.
In Late 1863, Mary and her family rented Bay View House, a fine dwelling in Bentinck Street overlooking the sea and Portland Bay. This allowed Mary to bring together her scattered family. To support her family, Mary established a school at Bay View House, her first school. “Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies” commenced in 1864 and was run by Mary and her sisters. She also continued teaching at the Common School in order to support her large family.
All did not go well for the venture or the family. The school struggled, tensions grew within the MacKillop family, debts multiplied and Mary lost her teaching position at the Common School. The loss of her job placed even greater financial pressure on the family. Mary’s father, Alexander, is believed to have been responsible for many of the problems that beset the family in Portland.
Prospects were bleak for Mary and her family. Then late in 1865, Father Woods invited Mary to return to Penola to set up a school. In January 1866, Mary and her sister Lexie left Portland for Penala.
Mary MacKillop spent several important and formative years in Portland. She made vital decisions about her future whilst in Portland. At Portland, she developed approaches to teaching and education that were to succeed in the right context and were successfully implemented throughout Australia and overseas.
Mary’s Portland days prepared her well for the challenges and obstacles she was to encounter in establishing the Sisters of Saint Joseph and developing a system of sound, accessible education throughout Australia. She and her order also contributed to general social reform by setting up orphanages, working with the destitute and with societies outcasts generally.
On 19 March 1866 (St Joseph’s Day) Mary started to wear a simple black dress and began the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph. Now as a Sister, she dedicated her life to doing God’s work. As more and more young women joined Mary as Sisters, they were able to start more schools. All children were welcome at the Josephite schools, which provided free Catholic education.
Mary went to work as a teacher in a little country town in South Australia called Penola. There she met Father Julian Tenison Woods who also wanted to do something for the poor children who could not afford to pay the money needed to go to school. Together, in 1866, they began the first St Joseph’s School in an old stable. Two of Mary’s younger sisters also taught in the school and other young women came to help them.
Mary cared about the people who had no one to look after them such as boys and girls who just roamed the streets, children in the country who had no school to go to, people who were old and sick and people who had nowhere to live. Mary wanted more than anything to help these people.
In Adelaide they opened a place for women who had nowhere to live, an orphanage for children who had no parents to look after them and a house where poor people could come and stay. The Sisters visited people who were in gaol and those who were poor and sick. Mary MacKillop was kind to all people, even if they did not agree with her. She died on 8 August 1909 in Alma Cottage, North Sydney. Mary helped many people during her lifetime and after she died, the Sisters of St Joseph kept on doing the good work she had started.