The Sisters of Charity were established in Ireland in 1816. They arrived in Australia in 1838 and Tasmania in 1847. The Sisters of Charity worked with people who were poor, especially children. This led them to open St Joseph's Orphanage in 1879. In 2014, the Sisters of Charity run an outreach program in Devonport.
Sisters Joan Cahill, de Sales O'Brien, and Mary Xavier Williams from Parramatta, New South Wales, established the Sisters of Charity in Tasmania. They set up their convent in the presbytery in Harrington Street behind St Joseph's Catholic Church opposite the site where they would open St Joseph's Orphanage.
The Supreme Authority of the Sisters of Charity was the Head Superior. She was elected by the congregation and held office for six years. A Council of four Superiors and a Bursar-General, also elected by the congregation, assisted her. Authority descended from the Head Superior to the local Superiors appointed by her for three years. The Head Superior visited each house at least once every three years. All sisters had access to the Head Superior or members of the Council.
According to the Constitution of the Sisters of Charity circa 1949: 'The special end of the Congregation is that its members labour seriously in works of spiritual and corporal mercy for the salvation and consolation of their neighbours'. These works included educating and training girls in primary, secondary, and boarding schools, as well as orphanages.
The Constitution contained some general statements about the care of girls in orphanages. For instance, the Sister-in-Charge should know each girl and her history personally. However, she should keep this information confidential unless other sisters needed it 'to assist in correcting peculiar difficulties'. Even then, 'respect for the child's rights to maintain its character must be observed'.
The Constitution emphasised the importance of the girls' health. Diet was supposed to be appropriate for growing children and cleanliness maintained by adequate numbers of baths and toilets. Dormitories had to be well-ventilated. The orphanage was expected to provide regular medical and dental care.
Education was 'a sacred duty'. The girls were 'to be prepared to live their lives as good citizens on earth, so that they may be worthy of entrance to their true Home - Heaven'.
Overall the Constitution stipulated that:
Regarding the children in our orphanages, they are to be received in a spirit of Faith, 'whatsoever you do to the least of mine, you do it to me'. Mindful of the especial love our Divine Lord has for little children, their period of life at the orphanage, which is usually the formative years, should be a time when the loss of their material home is made good as far as possible by loving care and prudence on the part of those to whose care they are entrusted.
Sources used to compile this entry: Ward, Malcolm A, Built by Seabrook: Hobart buildings constructed by the Seabrook family from the 1830s, Hobart, 2006, 109 pp.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 12 January 2011, Last modified: 24 October 2017