A priceless treasure: Sister Teresa McDonald, Pioneer Sister of St Joseph 1838-1876.
Publisher: Hindmarsh, SA ATF Theology, 2016
Paperback, 151 pages
Reviewed by Robyn Dunlop (*)
A Priceless Treasure : Sister Teresa McDonald, Pioneer Sister of St Joseph 1838-1876 is a portrait of one of the earliest members of the Australian Religious Institute the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. As such, it is also a portrait of the beginnings of the Order, and of the Catholic Church itself as it struggled to establish lasting roots in nineteenth-century South Australia and beyond.
Marie Crowley has published two well-respected histories of the the Sisters of St Joseph, and A Priceless Treasure makes for a Josephite trilogy. Her first was a Congregational history, broad in scope (though particular in detail) -
Women of the Vale: Perthville Josephites 1872-1972 (2002). The second was the more focused study, Except in Obedience: the Diocesan Sisters of St Joseph in Victoria (2013). This detailed the attempts to establish Diocesan
[TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE.] ultimately ended in failure.
A Priceless Treasure differs from the previous two books because of its biographical lens. The Josephites are women who know their own history well, but by researching, describing and reflecting on the personal experiences of one of their first Sisters, Crowley provides fresh insight into what might have seemed a familiar story.
Sister Teresa McDonald was the eighth entrant recorded in the Institute's Register, and she personally knew both of its founders: the Englishman Father Julian Tenison Woods and [then] Sister Mary MacKillop. Teresa was nearly 29 years old when she became a postulant in Adelaide in October 1867; like Mary, Teresa's background was Scottish. Catholics in South Australia were a minority then, and many Catholic clergymen were Irish - a detail which may have contributed to the cloud Woods and the Institute came under later on.
At the time, there was no state funding for denominational schools. However, in the early 1860s the Bishop of Adelaide had called for Catholic schools for Catholic children. The Sisters of St Joseph were founded to meet this need; as soon as she entered, Teresa was sent out to teach. Her religious training was limited, and hurried: she was professed little more than a year after entering. She was moved from city school to country, and promoted quickly to positions of responsibility within the growing Congregation. Whist she wrote regularly (and candidly) to both Fr Woods and Sr Mary for guidance, she was heavily dependent on the Institute's brand-new Rule for instruction on religious life.
Fr Woods had written the Rule in 1867 and it was immediately used by the Sisters (it was approved by Adelaide's Bishop Shiel in December 1868). Crowley notes the Rule's "constant theme" of "mortification, renunciation and the acceptance of difficulties as crosses enabling union with a crucified Christ" (p.29), and gestures towards the untold costs--often physical--this had on the earnest and inexperienced Sisters, including Teresa. Crowley does not pass judgement but argues for a contextual understanding of such spirituality. Her tone is intelligent, considered and compassionate.
Teresa was present for many of the new Order's pivotal moments. She was appointed Provincial of South Australia, a position she held in Mary's absence and when there was a crisis in Woods' leadership. She knelt with Mary MacKillop when Mary was sensationally excommunicated. Despite ill-health, Teresa was also chosen to lead the first foundation to New South Wales in 1872. to The Vale (later named Perthville. near Bathursf): she was the Provincial there when the Bishop of Bathurst tried to wrest control of the centrally-governed foundation so that it became a diocesan Order.
Many demanding situations took their toll on Teresa's health, particular in the 1870s. Although at times full of self-doubt, Teresa remained "humble but firm", a sensible and empathetic leader. She died whilst serving at The Vale, after only eight years with the Josephites.
Crowley's final chapter is a moving, mature reflection on Teresa's "inner life". She does not retell aspects of the Josephite story already well documented elsewhere, but useful footnotes guide readers to relevant work. Throughout, Crowley's writing on relationships and characters involved with the Institute during these years are a pleasure to read. A Priceless Treasure brings honour to one largely overlooked, and the book itself is, indeed, a treasure.
(*) Dr Robyn Dunlop is a historian and author of Planted in Congenial Soil: The Diocesan Sisters of St Joseph, Lochinvar, 1883--1917 (2016), which is reviewed in this issue.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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