Archived News Item

‘The Day We Came Over the Hill’

Present within the ISMAPNG Archives collection is a rare and insightful item. This manuscript, originally in the former Goulburn Congregation Archives, is a handwritten rule from Sr. M. Paula Cullen, who founded the Westport Convent, Ireland in 1842.  

The Rule of the Sisters of Mercy, originally composed by Mother Catherine McAuley in 1833 and adapted from the Rule of the Presentation Sisters, was approved on June 6, 1841 by Pope Gregory XVI. Before any new Religious Congregation could be formally recognised in the eyes of the Church, a Rule needed to be approved, identifying the character and purpose of the Order and instructions for daily management and living. The particular characteristics of the Sisters of Mercy were highlighted by Catherine McAuley as instruction of poor girls, visitation of the sick and protection of distressed women of good character. Until printed copies of The Rule were made available in 1863, Sisters of Mercy had to handwrite the Rule, consequently producing variations of wording.  

In early April 1859 Sr. M. Paula Cullen received a request for Irish Sisters of Mercy to come to Goulburn, due to the increasing number of local Catholics.  The first Sisters of Mercy for Goulburn, consisting of Srs. M. Ignatius Murphy, de Pazzi Dolphin, de Sales Meyler, Ligouri Mooney, Stanislaus Maxwell and Rose Hughes departed Westport, Ireland on June 28 of the same year. They were accompanied by the Westport Superior, Sr. M. Paula Cullen and her assistant Teresa as far as Liverpool, England and she appears to have presented her own copy of the handwritten Rule to the Sisters for their inland Australian Convent foundation and future journeys. The Annals details ‘the Sisters had to take an enormous supply of coifs, guimpes and underwear to last during this very trying voyage as the ship possessed no facilities for laundry’. The journey was long, with stops at Dublin, Liverpool, Melbourne and finally Sydney, where they then travelled to Goulburn over four days. The day of October 28, 1859 became known to the Goulburn Mercies as ‘the day we came over the hill’.
Although this handwritten copy of the Rule represents a rare archival treasure, other handwritten rules are located within the ISMAPNG Archives collection. One handwritten rule was brought out from Rochfortbridge in Ireland by the founding Sisters of Yass in 1875. This particular handwritten rule, however, was never completed with text only continuing until Chapter 22.  

Whilst The Rule contained vital instructions and guidelines for the Sisters of Mercy, it was on occasions open to interpretation. For example, our collection contains an Appendix for the original Rule from the Cooktown Sisters of Mercy on January 14, 1895 stating ‘climate and circumstances necessitated to modify the Customs of the Parent House regarding food, cell furniture and visitation presentation. Circumstances also prevent us being able in full to carry out the Customs of the Parent House’. While the exact details prompting this adjustment are currently unknown, there can be little doubt part of it regarded the individual dressing of Sisters of Mercy in their full black Irish habits in tropical Queensland weather!

The handwritten Rule and corresponding documents within the ISMAPNG collection are valuable treasures, providing a glimpse into the duties, life and circumstances of the Sisters around Australia in the 1800s.

Messages to: Anita Meale – Cultural Collections Curator ISMAPNG