History of St Joseph’s Tenterfield
The following information was taken from the St Joseph’s Primary Celebration of Federation day:
Celebrating the Centenary of Federation 1901-2001
St Joseph’s School Presents “The History of Our School”
Brief Outline of the History of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Tenterfield
When Bishop Elzear Torreggiani (Capuchin) arrived in Armidale in November 1879 after having being recently consecrated in England, he was faced with a NSW Education Act terminating financial assistance to denominational schools as from 1882.
Also, he was soon to become aware that the newly approved Australian Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph from Adelaide had been working in country parochial schools in the neighbouring diocese of Queensland for the past ten years. He knew too, that a significant number of these Sisters were leaving Queensland because of Bishop James Quinn’s inability to accept the central government of the Institute approved by Rome.
Further, he knew that Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB had invited Mary MacKillop and her Sisters to work in some country schools in his Archdiocese. Bishop Torreggiani met Mary MacKillop in Sydney to discuss with her the possibility of having the Sisters of St Joseph in the diocese of Armidale.
Blessed Mary MacKillop … The Capuchin Connection
Bishop Torreggiani lost no time in writing to her on 17 January 1880:
“I am pleased with your kind and thoughtful letter and the little Book of Constitutions which you kindly sent me. It appears to me that your holy Institute is admirably adapted to my poor diocese…your Institute will extend itself rapidly in the diocese of Armidale.”
In the same letter the bishop continued:
“As Rev Fr Keenan has asked already for some of your Sisters, so I give him full permission to accept you in his mission at Tenterfield and beg of you to make final arrangements with him as soon as possible. For my part you may rest assured that I shall do my best to help you in every way I can, and I hope that before long you will be able to have a Province of my diocese.”
Mary MacKillop wrote to Bishop Torreggiani on 15 March 1880:
“My dear Lord, your telegram did not reach me until last night as it had to be forwarded to me here in Sydney, hence the delay in replying. I am very sorry we have not more Sisters coming from Queensland to supply the places you mentioned…I regret very much having to leave NSW without seeing your Lordship. Please rest assured I will do my best to obtain the Sisters you require.”
In the meantime Mary arranged for three Sisters to travel cross country from Brisbane to Tenterfield. Sr Gonzaga Kennedy wrote to her Superior General in Adelaide (17 April 1880):
“We arrived here on Good Friday (26 March). I did not feel the least tired (after traveling) but Sisters Justina and Cyril did. Fr Keenan had a furnished house taken for us, so grand with mirrors in each room. He is so kind to us and thinks he can’t do enough for us. We commenced work on Holy Saturday and had to prepare the children for Confirmation and First Communion as the Bishop was expected in a fortnight…he was pleased with the order of the Children…he told me to tell you he has three foundations waiting and if you would agree to a boarding school in Armidale as the people have to send their children to Parramatta. He intends giving up his own house for a convent…our school is small, only 35, but I think it will soon increase. They are very backward in everything.”
Bishop Torreggiani had also arranged with Mother Mary to receive a community of Sisters for Inverell. Mary expressed her pleasure to Sr Bonaventrue, NSW Provincial (18 May 1880) for ‘managing to open Inverell.’ Three Sisters, Sasimir, Lucy and Philomena arrived there with the Provincial on 11 June 1880.
Armidale Jan 17th 1880
My dear Sister in Christ,
I am much pleased with your kind and thoughtful letter and the little book of Constitutions which you so kindly sent me.
It appears to me that your holy Institute is admirably adapted for my poor Diocese. As there are no Catholic Schools in this Diocese yet (except at Armidale and Grafton) and there are no Sisters of any kind your Institute will extend itself rapidly in the diocese of Armidale.
As the Rev. Father Keenan has asked already for some of your Sisters, so I give him full permission to accept you in his mission at Tenterfield and beg of you to make final arrangements with him as soon as possible. For my part you may rest assured that I shall do my best to help you in every way I can and I hope that before long you will be able to have a Province in my Diocese.
I am very sorry to hear that you had to suffer in Queensland, but you will know that our Good Lord permits such trials from time to time in order that we may remain faithful and true to Him in whom we should put all our trust. I am glad that my dear friend his Grace the Archbishop of Sydney is kind to you.
Wishing you every blessing
Sincerely yours in Christ
+Elzear Torreggiani O.S.F.C.
Bishop of Armidale
Tenterfield, situated on the Northern New England Tableland, 20 km from the Queensland border, became the centre of a beautiful and prosperous district within a few years of the first settler’s arrival.
The area was gazetted as a town on 7/10/1851.
The discovery of gold at Fairfield (now Drake) in the latter part of 1858, and other fields to the east of Tenterfield brought an inrush of thousands of prospectors, men of many nationalities.
It was during this period that Tenterfield was established as a Parish in 1865, but the Catholic Faith was very much alive in the district before that time.
In August 1863, it was decided to call tenders for the erection of a Church, St. Mary’s. In January, 1866, arrangements were made to welcome Fr. Keeghan as the first resident Parish Priest and plans for the Church were soon underway. The Church was ready for blessing and opening in 1868. Prior to his, church services were held in Sullivan’s Hotel.
St. Joseph’s Convent Tenterfield
Tenterfield was the first parish to which the Sisters came. Mother Mary visited the Convent in June, 1890, after the Convent was opened. Previously the Sisters were living in a shack on a property out of town. The old Convent is a two-storey building in Miles Street. The school was the lower storey and the Sisters lived on the upper floor.
In July, 1914 the present Convent was blessed and dedicated. For some years the convent was a boarding school to meet the needs of children from the surrounding district.
A number of these came to receive instruction in religious knowledge preparatory to the reception of the Sacraments of the Blessed Eucharist and Congregation.
The Sisters number among their past pupil many priests, brothers and nuns.