The Sisters of the Good Shepherd were founded in France in 1835 by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier to assist women and children in most need. More than 180 years later, Good Shepherd continues to provide courageous and compassionate service to women, girls and families in vulnerable circumstances around the world.
St Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, Foundress, Good Shepherd Sisters
Good Shepherd’s early years in Abbotsford, Melbourne
On 24 June 1863, the first four Good Shepherd Sisters landed in Melbourne. They were sent by Mary Euphrasia to provide support and safe housing for women and girls who were marginalised or left behind following the Victorian gold rush.
After a difficult four-month sea voyage aboard the “Forest Rights”, the Sisters—Bridget Doyle, Brigid Lalor, Helen Corbett and Anastasia Lacey—commenced their work in Melbourne at a site along the Yarra River in Abbotsford. They built the Abbotsford Convent and set about creating a self-sufficient community to provide shelter, education and spiritual support for young girls and women.
It was an amazing effort for four young women new to this country, but of course, the Sisters didn’t do this alone. They quickly developed strong relationships within the local community, and they were supported by many people.
The first girl to live with the Sisters at the Abbotsford Convent arrived on 26 September 1863. This teenager was soon joined by other girls and women, and within a year 32 people were living with the Sisters. This rose to 163 people by 1866.
In 1865 the Sisters acquired an adjoining 16 acre block on the site to house children and adolescents. A day school for children of the surrounding districts was opened in 1879. This school catered to primary, secondary and commercial students.
The Sisters made every effort to be self-sufficient. They maintained a farm and food gardens. A commercial laundry was built to generate income for the Convent, which many older girls, women and Sisters worked in. More funds were raised through events such as annual bazaars, Christmas appeals and charity sermons. The Sisters were helped by many individual benefactors as well as the government.
In June 1869 the founding group’s leader, Mother Mary of St Joseph Doyle, died at the age of 34. Other members of the original small band of Sisters were sometimes in poor health. Good Shepherd expanded in Australia thanks to the arrival of more Sisters from Ireland and the enthusiasm of local women to join the Congregation. By the end of the 19th century the number of Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia and New Zealand had grown to over 200.
A change in direction
In the mid-20th century the philosophy of protecting vulnerable people from harm or exploitation within institutionalised care evolved to focus on helping people in need in their own community. As a result, the large convents began to close from the mid-1960s.
From 1973 over 40 smaller houses were established for the Sisters and many of the women who had formerly lived in Good Shepherd care. The Good Shepherd Sisters continue to provide housing and support to some of these women today.
In 1976, the Sisters established Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service in Melbourne to provide community strengthening and financial inclusion services to women and girls, young people and families.
In 1981, the Sisters set up the No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS), a program that has grown across Australia and New Zealand to offer people on low incomes the chance to purchase essential items through a loan with no interest.
The following year, Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service opened in Marrickville, Sydney. Rosemount provided alternative education, counselling, research, advocacy and financial services for young people and their families.
In 1995 The Sisters set up a not-for-profit fair trade program as a way of empowering women in developing countries to trade out of poverty with dignity and respect. Known as The Trading Circle, this program provides women with skills-based training and offers them the opportunity to sell their unique products in the Australian marketplace. A smaller outlet operated in New Zealand from 2008 to 2016.
As part of their succession planning, the Sisters established Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand in 2008 to create a formal framework for sustaining and developing the Good Shepherd mission into the future.
In 2012 the Sisters established Good Shepherd Microfinance to expand NILS and offer other financial inclusion programs for people on low incomes.
In 2014, Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service and Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service merged with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand to become one unified organisation. This organisation continues today as Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.
Good Shepherd today
The Sisters today are passionate in their advocacy and support of women and girls experiencing social injustice and entrenched disadvantage.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand is part of the global Good Shepherd network, focusing on issues such as poverty, human trafficking, gender inequality and violence towards women and children. Good Shepherd International has “Special Consultative Status” with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations for its work with women and girls.
Together with the Sisters, Good Shepherd’s employees, volunteers and supporters are all mission partners, working towards creating a world where every woman and girl can experience a full, safe life and be in control of their future.
The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd
The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd community was formally established in Angers, France in 1831 by Mary Euphrasia. The mission of the Contemplative branch of Good Shepherd is to pray for and support the active endeavours of Good Shepherd.
In 1936 a small contemplative community was established in Christchurch, which moved to Oakleigh in Melbourne in 1961 and then relocated to the Melbourne suburb of Boronia in 1983. The Contemplative Sisters moved to Abbotsford in 2006, where the last remaining Sister now lives in retirement.
Good Shepherd Archive
The Good Shepherd Archive is located in Abbotsford, Melbourne. The Archive cares for the records of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia and New Zealand dating from 1863 until the present day.
The collection includes many records about the Sisters’ work with women and girls. Register books of admission and discharge have been retained for most residential convents in Australia and New Zealand. The Archive offers a research service to former residents, to their relatives and to people interested in the Good Shepherd mission in Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti. The research service operates by mail; the Archive is not open to the public and is a part-time service.
All requests for personal information must be accompanied by some form of personal identification such as a copy of your birth certificate or a copy of your current driver’s licence. If you are applying for information about another person, their permission is required. If you are applying for information about a person who is deceased, proof of death is required. Proof of your relationship to the deceased person is also required.
Contact Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand at:
PO Box 182
Abbotsford Vic 3067
firstname.lastname@example.org | Phone: +61 3 9270 9700
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores
Written by historian Catherine Kovesi, Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores tells the story of the communities of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Tahiti. It features rare photos of people, places and artefacts from the daily lives of the Sisters, women and children who lived in these communities.
Click the chapter links below:
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Introduction : 2nd edition, 2010
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 1 : First sown in French soil
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 2 : A sheepfold in a far-distant land
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 3 : A new shoot on fertile soil
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 4 : Through a glass darkly
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 5 : A series of new foundations
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 6 : A time of transition
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 7 : Aggiornamento
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 8 : This tiny spot in the ocean: A Tahitian interlude
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Chapter 9 : Life-bearers with and for the poor of the world
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Appendixes & Illustrations
Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: Bibliography & Index
Apology to residents who suffered in institutional care
Read the apology from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to residents who suffered in institutional care.