In November 2011, the Little Sisters of the Poor celebrated 125 years of service to the elderly in Sydney.  Most of that time has been at Randwick.  A number of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart have been cared for by the sisters.  A number of MSCs have served as chaplains, including Fr Joe Brady MSC, Fr Frank Crilley MSC, Fr Bernie McGrane MSC.  For many years, Brother Bernard Epping MSC lived there and helped with maintenance.

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The story of the Little Sisters of the Poor began in 1839 when Jeanne Jugan (the foundress of the Order) carried

a destitute blind and paralysed old woman to her own home and placed her in her own bed. This was the founding gesture of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Today there are Little Sisters following in the footsteps of Saint Jeanne Jugan and serving the needy elderly in 32 countries.

The story of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Sydney began with the sailing of the steamship S.S. Salazie

from Marseilles en route to Australia. Among its passengers were five Little Sisters of the Poor – three French, one American and one Irish. Arriving in Melbourne where the Order was already established they were joined

by two Sisters. The Salazie arrived in Sydney on 1st November 1886 and except for those two, they stepped into a completely new world.

Cardinal Moran had become interested in the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor following a visit to the Home in Melbourne. When he inquired about the possibilities of a similar Home in Sydney he was told that preparations

were being made to go to Auckland. However the Cardinal convinced the Mother General that the needs of the elderly in Sydney were greater.

And so it was that the Cardinal warmly welcomed the Little Sisters the next day to ‘Elswick’ the property he had acquired for them in Leichhardt. Today it is known as St Martha’s and is occupied by the Catholic Education Office. The house was in such a bad state of repair that the Sisters wrote in their Foundation Book ‘For two years the house has been deserted and the ground uncultivated. …..three days before we arrived, 300 window panes had been broken’.

They set about cleaning the house and by 23rd November they were caring for six aged persons, four ladies and two men. Within a year however Elswick was proving too small for the needs of the poor and as the doctors had   attributed an outbreak of typhoid to the locality the Sisters acquired on 11 July 1887 a six acre property in Avoca Street Randwick. Two Sisters and a few residents moved into the little rented house to supervise the construction of a temporary timber home.

On 14 August 1898 the foundation stone of this new building, Mount St Joseph’s, was laid and two years later, on 22 June 1900, the chapel and building was solemnly blessed by Cardinal Moran. Further demand for the caring of the aged and the poor resulted in a new building being built on the site in 1915.

On 16 September 1901 Cardinal Moran blessed and opened a building on the western side of Avoca Street. It remained as the novitiate for the Sisters until the 1980s when it was sold. The site is now occupied by the Emmanuel School. Mount St Joseph’s Home is now a facility of buildings providing 16 self-care units, a 20 bed low care hostel and 32 places for residents needing high care, plus accommodation for retired Priests. The residents are cared for by the Sisters (from nine different nationalities) and approximately 80 staff.

The work of the Sisters is motivated not only by their profession of the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience but by a fourth vow of hospitality. Its practical application is seen in the way in which the elderly are welcomed into a family-like home and accompanied on the last stage of their journey through life. Their religious habit is black with a gray veil or white in summer and while caring for the sick. Their crucifix, worn under the habit, bears the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I am gentle and humble of heart’. 1st November 2011 marks 125 years of their devotion to the elderly of Sydney.  

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