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Pilgrimage to Josephite Schools

This year the Association of Josephite Affiliated Secondary Schools (AJASS) decided to make a pilgrimage to the Hunter Valley, where they visited two Secondary Schools, St Joseph’s at Lochinvar and Sr Mary’s at Gateshead, where the Josephite charism is alive and active.

AJASS was formed in 2006 with the aim of strengthening and maintaining the Josephite charism in the schools that were founded by the Sisters of St Joseph.  Today that charism, in the hands of the principals, staff and students of our schools, is being claimed and celebrated.

The pilgrimage, entitled In the steps of Julian in the Diocese had a particular focus on the life and ministry in this diocese of Fr. Julian Tenison Woods, who co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph with Mary MacKillop in 1866.

As many of the principals came from interstate, it was appropriate to begin that pilgrimage at the Newcastle Foreshore where Sr Jan Tranter explained Julian’s close connection with our diocese.

The principals then had three action-packed days.  Day 1 began with a tour of the several places in Newcastle and Maitland that were significant in the ministry of Julian.  On their arrival at St Joseph’s Lochinvar, the Indigenous students welcomed the guests to Wonnarua Country with a smoking ceremony and dance.

 After the lunch, prepared and served by the students, two student leaders and two staff members, including the principal, Mrs Patricia Hales, spoke of their experiences of living the Josephite charism in this Josephite school.

Sr Patricia Egan then gave a presentation on our Lochinvar Congregation’s founding story and the school’s evolution from a small primary school in 1883 to the present day 7 to 12 co-educational high school.

 Mr Larry Keating, former principal of St Mary’s Gateshead, followed with practical examples of the Josephite charism in action especially during the COVID pandemic.

The pilgrims then walked to St Patrick’s Primary School where they visited MacKillop Park, which was opened and blessed earlier in the year as a way of keeping alive the Josephite charism in Lochinvar for 140 years.  Activities for Day 1 ended at the nearby Sisters’ Cemetery where 280 Sisters are buried.

Day 2 saw the pilgrims in the bus again travelling up the Valley to Milbrodale, to visit the Baiame Cave, a heritage-listed Aboriginal rock art and cultural site of the Wonnarua people.  The cave had been formed over millennia through the natural weathering processes of the sandstone.  

Uncle Warren Taggart and Elders guided the group through the cultural immersion.  As is the norm for all visitors to the Valley, the next stop was a visit to the famed Hunter Vineyards.

The pilgrimage ended on day three with a visit to St Mary’s Gateshead, on Awabakal Land.   The Sisters built the school which began in the 1964 to serve students in the East Lake Macquarie region.  There pilgrims enjoyed see the rich display of artefacts that explored the life of Fr Julian. 

They were pleased to see that Julian’s reverence for the natural world has been embraced at St Mary’s.  Students are encouraged to be actively involved in caring for the earth.  It has a well-established and highly acclaimed Landcare program.

Sr Monica Cavanagh, Congregational Leader of the Josephite Sisters of the Sacred Heart accompanied the principals during the pilgrimage.  Sr Carmel Hanson, Lochinvar Leader and many local Josephite Sisters enjoyed the company of the principals at the Pilgrimage Dinner.

For many of the principals, Fr Julian Tenison Woods had been a hidden, somewhat forgotten figure in the Josephite story.  They left with a greater understanding of his role as the co-founder with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop of the Sisters of St Joseph.

As Mary said in 1881: Little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning.