Sea-change but spirit remains

“We are but travellers here,” is an oft-quoted Mary MacKillop saying, and it is something for which the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar have come to have deeper respect over the past 18 months.

As our name suggests, the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar have always been associated with the beautiful Hunter village just west of Maitland. Lochinvar is the place of our beginning. It was the destination of our first four Sisters in 1833. It is the site of our Mother House and the place where much of our history was formed, and a significant source of our identity. The geographical became the personal, part of the general psyche.

But after 135 years, we have taken heed of St Mary of the Cross’s dictum. We have journeyed on. Our congregational administration centre has “travelled” and relocated from Lochinvar to Warners Bay. We are generally known as “Lochinvar Josephites”and we will continue to be so – but now, all of our congregational business is conducted from 85 Albert Street, Warners Bay.

Initially, those first four Sisters in 1883 lived in a hotel. They arrived in Lochinvar one day, and began school the next. Convent and school coexisted in those early days. The Diocese purchased the first land to accommodate the growing religious order and school, and to separate one from the other. At that time the “Sisters’ rule” did not allow them to own property. Nevertheless the early Sisters worked hard, and scrimped and saved to pay off the debt, and when the rule changed they took over ownership.

Decades later, as numbers increased and the functions of administration and management became more complex, the concept of discrete congregational offices was entertained. With changes in religious life after Vatican II, and increasing professionalisation and diversification of our ministries, separation of convent life and the management of our affairs became essential. The decision was made to relocate the offices from a space within the convent complex to what had been the novitiate building and which then came to be known as “the generalate”. And there we stayed, happily, for more than 20 years.

In 1976 we handed over the administration of St Joseph’s to the Catholic Schools Office. We continued to operate the boarding school until 1993, when the secondary schools in the Maitland area were reorganised as All Saints’ College – one college with three campuses. However, the winds of change continued to blow, and in 2010, St Joseph’s College was facing another restructure. But by 2010, the college was ready to withdraw from the one-college-with-three-campuses union. Enrolment numbers were increasing, the drive to extend to Year12 was again gathering momentum, and more and more of the Sisters’ land – which had been added to over the decades – was being sought to cater for the expansion.

Faithful to our strong commitment to education, and facing the reality of our own frailty and decreasing numbers, we decided to negotiate with the Diocese over the purchase of the land and the buildings we occupied. These negotiations were completed in October 2016 and one year later, in late-November 2017, the congregational administration centre moved to Warners Bay.

Today, most of our Sisters live within the Greater Newcastle area, and we maintain a presence in the Maitland, Upper Hunter and Manning regions. Six Sisters continue to live in-community at Lochinvar. They are deeply involved in parish life, frequent visitors to the schools and greatly welcoming of anyone who comes knocking at their door. The office location at Warners Bay is very convenient for the majority of Sisters and our very dedicated staff are enjoying the change of scene.

The two-storey building we now occupy was once a medical facility and offers space for offices, archives and small group gatherings. The streetscape is very suburban, but calm and peaceful, and the shores of Lake Macquarie are an easy walk away.

This change, however, has not been without some sense of deep loss and grief for many of us. By profession, we are Lochinvar Josephites, and proudly so. Once our geographical centre, now the term “Lochinvar” identifies us symbolically, and, in one word, gathers up our past and present. And, while cherishing that past and all it means for each one of us, with gratitude and vitality, we live each day, open to the new, the uncertain, and the future.

Many of our Sisters joined Bishop Bill at the blessing of our offices on May 1, the feast of St Joseph the Worker. Each Sister brought a jar of water from her home locality and during the prayer, poured it into a bowl to be used in the blessing. The symbolism was powerful for everyone.

Do come and visit us and enjoy a cuppa any time you are in the Warners Bay area. The new address for the Congregational Administration Centre, Sisters of St Joseph is 85 Albert St, Warners Bay, NSW, 2282 (PO Box 514, Warners Bay, NSW, 2282).


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Sister Lauretta Baker Image
Sister Lauretta Baker

Sister Lauretta Baker RSJ is Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Lochinvar

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