Penola Crest

Strength, Equality, Determination

Our House Story

Penola House is named after the town Penola in South Australia, where St Mary of the Cross MacKillop founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, with the assistance of Father Julian Wood in 1866. Shortly after Mary founded the congregation of nuns, who would become known as the Josephites, she took the name of Mother Mary of the Cross.

Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne in 1842, into a large family of Scottish ancestry. The family moved to the country and by the age of twenty, Mary had become a governess. Mary quickly realised that there was a need for spiritual and academic education in remote Australia and Mary dedicated her life from that point on to teaching children. The success of the school in Penola, which allowed anyone to enrol, led to the establishment of a further forty schools and four charitable foundations in South Australia in the first 5 years.

In the later years of her life Mary fell ill, suffering a stroke which left her wheelchair bound. She continued with her work until her death in 1909, living her final years at her home in the Josephite convent in North Sydney. The work Mary had begun continued after her death, with many schools and hospitals across rural Australia being staffed primarily by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The 1950’s were particularly significant for the Order as the Sisters extended their work to Papua New Guinea and also helped establish Canberra Catholic Girls High School, now known as Merici College. When Merici College first opened in 1959, there were two Josephite Sisters on staff, Sister Damien and Sister Amadeus, whose black and white habit inspired the colours adopted by Penola House. In 2008, Mary MacKillop was canonised by the Catholic Church, having been beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994. Mary became Australia’s first saint, officially known as St Mary of the Cross. Her home remains today in the grounds of Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney and is part of the extensive museum and prayer facility there, which has become a place of pilgrimage for those interested in Mary’s legacy. The order which Mary founded is still growing, with approximately 900 Sisters currently living and ministering throughout Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Peru, Timor Leste, Scotland, Brazil and Papua New Guinea. In our modern society the Sisters of St Josephite of the Sacred Heart encourage us to:

  • Identify and walk with those who are today’s poor
  • Harness all our energies for God’s mission, and
  • Have a heart for mission until our last breath.
  • Today the Josephites participate in God’s mission by serving in a range of ministries. They can be found working in schools, shelters and health facilities, endeavouring to live out Mary’s words; “Never see a need without doing something about it”. The spirituality which underpins their vision and all that they do is one of relationship – with God, with one another and with all of creation.

Our House Charity

Marymead is a Canberra based charity which provides support and services for children, young people and their families during times of need. Each year Marymead enriches the lives of over 1000 people from our community.


Marymead was founded in Canberra over 47 years ago by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. The original purpose of this organization was to offer housing for children and young people of all races living in dysfunctional family units. Often the police and social workers would use Marymead as a sanctuary for these children. Today Marymead continues to develop and deliver programs in response to the changing needs of local families. Strengthening and supporting families and increasing life chances and choices for children and young people who have experienced the trauma of family violence, child abuse and neglect are at the charity’s core. Marymead helps such children and families by:

  • Providing care and assisting in healing;
  • Working with families to enhance their wellbeing;
  • Advocating for the resources, policies and programs to which they are entitled;
  • Applying knowledge and evolving to meet new challenges

As students of Merici College and young women of Penola House we support Marymead by providing financial assistance which we gather through various fundraising ventures and we also provide physical and practical assistance at events organised by Marymead, such as at their annual fete. Penola House believes in the work of Marymead, as it gives life and dreams back to young women, children and families in our community.

Loving God,
Look favourably on the girls, staff and families of Penola House as we seek to follow the example of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop,

whose selfless devotion to you and to all in need brought relief to so many.

Inspired by Mary’s work, her strength, determination and quest for equality,

may we develop the resilience and passion to meet our own challenges and live lives full of hope and action.

The response to these Prayers is: Loving God, Let Our Light Shine

READER: St Mary MacKillop dealt with injustice in all its many forms. When we are faced with injustices that diminish human dignity, in the spirit of St Mary of the Cross .....

RESPONSE: Loving God, Let Our Light Shine

READER: St Mary MacKillop reached out to all people who suffered disability, religious persecution, poverty, hunger or homelessness. When we are confronted by people who need our support, let us never see a need without doing something about it. In the spirit of St Mary of the Cross.....

RESPONSE: Loving God, Let Our Light Shine

READER: Oppression is everywhere in our world, as it was at the time of St Mary MacKillop. Help us to respond with compassion and practical help, in the spirit of St Mary of the Cross.....

RESPONSE: Loving God, Let Our Light Shine

READER: Gratitude of the heart was characteristic of St Mary MacKillop's way of life. May we too show gratitude to God and others for the blessings we receive daily, and be generous in sharing these blessings with those we meet, in the spirit of St Mary of the Cross.....

RESPONSE: Loving God, Let Our Light Shine

Concluding Prayer

God of mercy and compassion, you called St Mary MacKillop to be committed to the education of poor children and to the service of those in need. We ask you to look over us as we aspire to her example. Let us allow the message of Christ, in all its richness, to find a home within us and may our own lights shine as brightly as that of St Mary of the Cross.
We ask this prayer through Christ Our Lord.

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