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 create a self-sufficient community at the Abbotsford Convent. They maintained a farm and gardens for produce, and set up a commercial laundry to provide employment for older girls and women and to generate income to support the running costs of the convent. Funds were also 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.
Good Shepherd’s expansion in Australia:
1883 – Reformatory school for young women at Oakleigh, Victoria
1893 – Convents in Albert Park, Victoria and Mt Saint Canice in Hobart, Tasmania
1902 – Convent at Adelaide Terrace, Perth in Western Australia—this was relocated to the inner suburb of Leederville in 1904
1905 – St Aidan's Convent in Bendigo, Victoria, the only Good Shepherd convent in Australia to care for boys as well as girls and women
1913 – Convent in Ashfield in Sydney (coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Good Shepherd in Australia)
1931 – Convent in Mitchelton in Brisbane, Queensland
1938 – Convent in Boronia, Victoria
1941 – Convent in Plympton in Adelaide, South Australia
1948 – Convent in Toongabbie, NSW
1956 – St Clare's School in Perth, offering education and personal development skills to girls. Schools were also established in the other houses, where typewriting, cooking, sewing and academic subjects were offered to the school-aged girls
Good Shepherd’s expansion in New Zealand:
1886 – Four Sisters from Melbourne went to New Zealand and were joined by four others from France to set up a convent in Christchurch. The Sisters assisted women and children who were isolated and marginalised from the community.
1931 – Convent in Waikowhai, Auckland
1945 – Convent in Upper Hutt, Wellington—relocated to Te Horo, north of Wellington in 1953
1965 – Rosanna Hostel, a home for expectant mothers in Lower Hutt, Wellington
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
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.