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A Significant Anniversary

Sr Jan Tranter recalls the significant role Sr Hyacinth Quinlan played in the Josephite Story.

12 September 2023 was the 90th anniversary of the death of Sr Hyacinth Quinlan. One could ask if, without her, our Josephite congregation (and the former congregations of Perthville, Whanganui, Goulburn and Tasmania)[1]  would have come into being. We recognise the anniversary with gratitude.

At Christmas 1875, Bishop Matthew Quinn gave Perthville Sisters a choice: remain in the original Josephite institute or be in a separate diocesan Josephite institute. In February 1876, those choosing to remain with the Adelaide institute and its new Constitutions left for Adelaide.

Remaining at Perthville were twenty-four-year-old Hyacinth (one of the three founding Sisters from Adelaide), a professed Sister (from the local area), one novice and twelve postulants, including nine recruited in Ireland by Quinn.

Over a year later, in April 1877, at Quinn’s invitation, Fr Woods arrived from missions in Tasmania. Over the next five and a half years, he brought new life and growth to the group by visits, instructions, retreats and directing new members there from his widespread missions.

The diocesan Rule, bringing a diocesan shape to the institute, was completed by Woods and signed by Quinn on 15 August 1878.   At the end of August 1883 when four Sisters left to make a foundation at Lochinvar, there were over 110 Sisters on the Perthville register, over twenty branches in the diocese and two foundations in other dioceses. The Perthville institute was a thriving entity.

Hyacinth Quinlan had held together the Perthville group until Woods arrived. Her presence, teaching and example ensured a continuity of spirit and tradition with the original institute.

Her decision to remain seems to have been made under pressure as shortly before she had written to Mary MacKillop of her allegiance to the new Constitutions. Her decision, however, points to faith, courage and the ability to adapt before the reality she faced: she gave up the institute she knew to enable its life and mission to continue at Perthville, although in a separate institute.

She had the capacity to make a decision different from that of most of her companions and bore consequent misunderstanding.

The records of her life as Sister Guardian (Superior) at Perthville until April 1880, then Sister Guardian and community member in New Zealand then Tasmania do not suggest self-seeking ambition.

After the Irish postulants at Perthville were received on 7 April 1876, Hyacinth, with depleted personnel, reopened schools closed by the withdrawal of Sisters.

She persevered in faithfulness. She continued faithful until the end, dying on 12 September 1933 aged 82 in Hobart. She is buried in Cornelian Bay.

By the time of her death, there were 950 entries in the combined registers of Perthville and its offshoots. (Perthville 298, Wanganui, 192, Goulburn, 163, Lochinvar, 232, Tasmania, 65.) In 2007, the total in the registers of the five groups (that had then federated) was 1,580. There were then 3,750 in the Sydney based Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. [2]

Of the four Lochinvar founding Sisters, only Baptist Dugan knew Hyacinth, as Hyacinth had led the founding group to Whanganui before the other three entered. However, Hyacinth’s role was significant for all.

By their fruits you will know them.

It was Father Woods who fanned to flame the life and growth at Perthville in a virtual refounding, while Hyacinth kept the group viable until he came, and remained Sister Guardian until leading the founding community to Whanganui.

She stood in the breach between the original foundation and that at Perthville. A Sister is with her in another way in this breach.  Perthville’s founding Sister Guardian, Teresa McDonald, who had been unwell for some time, became acutely ill.  She died on 13 January soon before the Sisters left for Adelaide and was buried near the convent.

Teresa, in her life and death at Perthville, and Hyacinth, remaining at Perthville, link the original and second growth of the institute.

On 12 September 2023, we recognise Hyacinth whose faith and courage enabled the spirit and life of the Josephite institute, founded by Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop, to endure in the emerging situation.

Fr Woods wrote to Sr Ambrose Joseph at Lochinvar, Let us be faithful in our position then we need not fear the rest (from Singapore, 20/12/1884). We are part of Hyacinth’s legacy.

[1] Between 2012 and 2014 these congregations fused with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

[2] Figures from archivists in 1995 and in 2007, the 150th anniversary of Woods’ ordination.