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Our History

The Sisters of The Good Shepherd came from France to Australia in 1863 to help vulnerable women and children during the Gold Rush. More than 150 years later the organisation continues to provide services for women, girls and families.

For almost 200 years, globally, Good Shepherd has been providing courageous and compassionate services to help women, girls and families overcome disadvantage. 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.

old woman wearing glasses

Our Early Years In Melbourne

The first Good Shepherd Sisters arrived from France in 1863, landing in Melbourne to provide support and safe housing for women and girls who were marginalised or left behind following the Victorian gold rush.  

They found a site along the Yarra River and in an amazing effort for a group of four women new to this country, they built the Abbotsford Convent and developed strong community connections.  The Sisters set about creating a self-sufficient community to provide shelter, education and support for young girls and women. By 1866, 163 girls lived at the Abbotsford refuge.

While they battled illness, difficult conditions, and a lack of funds, it is testimony to the early Good Shepherd Sisters determination and vision that their mission continued to grow. Over the next 10 years they established a primary, secondary, and commercial day school for children from the local districts and a farm, gardens, and commercial laundry to generate income for the Convent.

Good Shepherd expanded in Australia with 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.

Change in Direction

In the mid-20th Century the philosophy of protecting vulnerable people shifted from institutionalised care to focus on helping people within their own community. The convent refuges began to close and from 1973 over 40 residential houses were established.

In 1976, Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service began in Melbourne to provide counselling, support, research and advocacy, community development and financial inclusion services to women and girls, young people, and families. The services expanded to Sydney in 1982.

Guided by the audacious, zealous spirit of their founder, Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd continued to focus on programs that had impact, were sustainable and empowered women, girls and families. 

Recognising that financial services in Australia excluded those on low-incomes, in 1981 the Sisters set up the No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS). The NILS program grew across Australia and New Zealand and offered financially vulnerable people the chance to purchase essential items through a loan with no interest. This is the platform of all our microfinance programs today.

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. For 25 years, The Trading Circle provided women with skills-based training and the opportunity to sell their unique products in the Australian and New Zealand market.

As the Sisters retired from active participation in the mission work, they established Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (GSANZ) in 2008. In 2019, Good Shepherd Microfinance (established in 2012) merged into GSANZ to ensure continuity of services and better outcomes for women, girls and families.

Good Shepherd Today

The Sisters today are as passionate in their advocacy and support of women and girls experiencing social injustice and entrenched disadvantage as they ever were. Good Shepherd Sisters participate in The National Redress Scheme providing acknowledgement and support to people who experienced trauma as a result of institutional life as a child. 

Together with the Sisters, Good Shepherd’s employees, volunteers and supporters are all partners in mission, working towards creating a world where every woman and girl can experience a full life – where they are safe, well, strong and connected.

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. For 25 years, The Trading Circle provided women with skills-based training and the opportunity to sell their unique products in the Australian and New Zealand market.

As the Sisters retired from active participation in the mission work, they established Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (GSANZ) in 2008. In 2019, Good Shepherd Microfinance (established in 2012) merged into GSANZ to ensure continuity of services and better outcomes for women, girls and families.

Click here to read 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.