In the 1800s the port of Geraldton had become a prosperous town due to wool and grain exports and mining from Northampton nearby. Bishop Matthew Gibney of Perth sought the assistance of several religious orders to establish a convent and school in Geraldton. The Presentation Sisters from Sneem and Michelstown in County Kerry, Ireland agreed to come to Western Australia.
In May 1891 Sisters sailed from Ireland to England then to Albany. From Albany they travelled to Perth by train and finally by boat to Geraldton, arriving in July 1891. They commenced work the day after they arrived! During the next 78 years the Sisters from that original group opened a further 21 schools in some of the remotest areas of Western Australia. They “followed the mining towns, opening and closing schools wherever there was a need, even taking their convent and school by ‘jinker’ (a wheeled flat topped conveyance) from one mining town to another. They reached out to country children by taking boarders, both boys and girls, and taught many Aboriginal children”.
The gold rush of the late 1800s caused a sudden influx of people to the south of Western Australia. As new towns were established Bishop Matthew Gibney was aware of the need for pastoral care of the people. He invited the Presentation Sisters from Hay to come west. The Hay foundation originated from Kildare and Wagga Wagga.
The Sisters arrived in Albany before setting out for Northam and then Southern Cross, where it seemed the local priest had forgotten they were coming! By the end of the year they had 100 children. The Sisters who went to Southern Cross endured the hardships of isolation, climate, distance and lack of cultural pursuits. There was little for them to eat and they worked long and hard to establish the community. In 1902 a group moved to the mining town of Collie. Over the next 80 years 18 more schools were opened. The Sisters were enterprising and unafraid of hard work. They reached out to children and adults most in need and supplemented the meagre school fees by music teaching and commercial classes.
Some key events in the history of the Presentation Sisters in WA
- 1895 First WA postulant in northern foundation – Margaret McDowell (Sister Magdalen)
- 1901 First WA postulant in southern foundation – Amy Houlahan (Sister Anthony)
- 1942 Sisters survive Japanese bombing in Port Hedland and stay to look after pupils
- Northampton and Geraldton amalgamate 1943
- 1959 tragic drowning of three Sisters and a young priest in boating accident at Mandurah
- 1969 Congregation of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Western Australia formed by union of north and south
- 1978 First Postulants from Thailand joins congregation
- 1991 First Presentation Community in Thailand formalised.