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  • A Dynamic of Hope: Institutes of Women Religious in Australia
  • Jill Blee
A Dynamic of Hope: Institutes of Women Religious in Australia. By Mary Rosa MacGinley. Second edition. (Darlinghurst, New South Wales: Crossing Press for the Australian Catholic University National Research Centre for the Study of Women's History, Theology and Spirituality. 2002. Pp. viii, 439. Paperback.)

The arrival of the Sisters of Charity in Sydney in 1838 at the invitation of the bishop of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land, the Benedictine John Bede Polding, began what would become a major influence on the development of a strong Catholic culture in Australia. Dr. Rosa MacGinley does not, however, begin A Dynamic of Hope: Institutes of Women Religious in Australia with this arrival. Instead she provides a brief, but excellent, account of the evolution of institutes of religious women from early monastic times through to the formation of congregations established to meet the changes overtaking [End Page 1011] Christianity in post-Reformation times. She pays specific attention to those which extended the boundaries imposed by the Council of Trent so they could educate young women in the Faith and provide for the needs of the poor and dispossessed in a rapidly changing Europe.

As the majority of the religious institutes who came to Australia were either Irish foundations or continental institutes with substantial interests in Ireland, it is not surprising that Dr. MacGinley devotes considerable space to institutes and their founders like Nano Nagle, who established the Sisters of the Presentation in Cork, and had to overcome many hurdles in order to carry out the work to which they had committed themselves. They paved the way for others like the Sisters of Charity founded by Mary Aikenhead and Catherine Macauley's Sisters of Mercy, who were able to go out among the poor of Dublin and bring them comfort and education. Their experiences there made them ideally suited to the work they would do in Australia.

Most of Dr. MacGinley's book is devoted to the religious women who nursed the sick, took care of the poor, and taught in Catholic schools in Australia particularly following the passing of the 1872 Education Act in Victoria, which saw the introduction of a free, compulsory, and secular state system of education from which Catholic children were excluded by the hierarchy of the Church in Australia. As similar systems of education were introduced into to each of the colonies, the provision of Catholic education weighed heavily on the dioceses which had to find funds to build schools and pay teachers. Convents were built to accommodate any members of religious institutes who could be invited to take charge of teaching Catholic children, and novitiates sprang up to accommodate locally born girls who wished to follow the religious life.

While the story Dr. MacGinley tells is one of dedication and achievement, she does not shirk from the negativities. In an age when women had a very subservient role in the community, clashes between these strong- willed and determined religious women and the bishops and priests who sought to dictate to them were frequent. Bitter struggles such as that endured by the Sisters of Mercy led by Ursula Frayne in Western Australia, and Mary McKillop, the Australian founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, are all told.

An enormous amount of research has gone into the writing of A Dynamic of Hope: Institutes of Women Religious in Australia. It is well documented and contains a number of tables listing the institutes and the communities they established around Australia. A detailed map is also provided. Dr. MacGinley is to be congratulated for this second edition of her work.

Jill Blee
Ballarat Mechanics Institute


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