Two Anglican schools in Australia have celebrated a century and a quarter of ministry by sisters of the Anglican Society of the Sacred Advent. “Mother Emma’s Day” is celebrated each year on 9 March, and this year students from St Margaret’s and St Aidan’s girls’ schools gathered at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane to give thanks for the presence of the Order over such a long period of time and to pray that the work started by the Society may continue for years to come.
There are only 3 Sisters remaining and they live in semi-retirement, although they retain a keen interest in both schools and the wider church. A spokesperson said: “ It was special to have Mother Eunice, Sr Sandra and Sr Gillian with us, along with Old Girls, members of school councils and the Sisters Trust, and even former residents of St Michael’s Home.”
From small beginnings in 1882, the Sisters established more than ten schools as well as orphanages, hostels, homes for girls, a hospital and a club for working and factory girls. Much of this work was begun under the leadership of Mother Emma, who was Mother Superior of the order from 1906 until 1939.
125 years ago, two women left England to go to Brisbane at the request of Canon Stone-Wigg, then Sub Dean of Brisbane. Brisbane was then a relatively small and rather wild colonial town. It faced a variety of social challenges including alcohol abuse and marriage breakdown, which left children vulnerable and often homeless. Sr Caroline Amy and Deaconess Minnie established the Society of the Sacred Advent; the SSA as it is fondly known has continued to minister across the three dioceses of Queensland in the areas of pastoral care, educational opportunities and health and welfare provision. About 80 Sisters were professed into the Order.
Sisters Vera and Dorothy
The work of the SSA from the start was notable for its particular interest in the welfare of women and children. The Sisters began with accommodation for homeless girls, The Home of the Good Shepherd, and a club for girls who worked in factories and workshops, where they could enjoy bright surroundings, good company and food after work, as well as instruction in sewing, music and religion.
Their forays into education began with the St John’s School at the Cathedral. In all their schools they insisted on high educational standards alongside religious formation. This philosophy travelled with the Sisters as they established schools in some of the remotest areas of Queensland including the northern tropics and western regions. The provision of such educational opportunities in small communities, and the inclusion of girls and children of poorer families, was remarkable for the time and place.
Today the SSA still owns and operates St Margaret’s and St Aidan’s schools in Brisbane diocese. Many of the other schools were handed over by the Sisters to diocesan management and continue to educate Queensland children.