The work and achievements of the Presentation Sisters in Tasmania, dating back more than 150 years, has been recognised by their listing on the 2021 Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women.
The Sisters were honoured for their significant contributions to education, training and the community in an award ceremony held in Launceston on Friday 12 March.
As the first Presentation school in Australia, St Mary’s College is proud of its heritage, with the charism of the Presentation Sisters and their foundress, Nano Nagle, at the heart of the school community.
St Mary’s College Principal, Helen Spencer has paid tribute to the Presentation Sisters, who founded the College in 1868 in response to a call from the community for a Catholic school in the area.
Originally known as Mount St Mary’s, today St Mary’s College is a Kinder to Year 12 school for girls catering for more than 950 students.
“There are more than 24 countries worldwide with Presentation schools and St Mary’s College is just one of the many in Australia,” Ms Spencer said.
“Our story began more than 150 years ago and is interwoven with the stories of numerous other communities that would not be here but for the love and courage of Presentation women,” she said.
“We are proud of and grateful to the Sisters for continuing to inspire, motivate and empower future generations of young women to make a difference in their own way.”
After establishing St Mary’s College in Hobart, and a ‘poor school’—St Columba’s—on the same site, the Sisters soon opened other schools in Launceston, Bellerive, Lindisfarne, Queenstown, Beaconsfield, George Town, Karoola, Lilydale, Longford, and took over the already established school at New Norfolk.
The Congregational Leader of the Presentation Sisters, Sr Gabrielle Morgan PBVM said since their arrival in Hobart from Ireland in 1866, the Sisters have educated thousands of Tasmanians and provided opportunities for quality and practical education where none previously existed.
“Had it not been for St Columba’s School, thousands of Hobart children in the latter part of the 19th century might not have received any education,” Sr Gabrielle said.
Since the 1970s, when some of the smaller schools closed, the Sisters have gone out into the community as pastoral workers, caring for immigrants, refugees and the marginalised in society.
Sr Gabrielle said when the numbers of young women entering religious life declined, the Sisters continued to operate their schools with lay teachers, but the Presentation philosophy of welcome, simplicity, compassion and hospitality continues.
“The Tasmanian Sisters have strongly supported their international sisters in the Philippines, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, with some Sisters also volunteering for a number of years in the latter two countries, providing educational opportunities for girls and young women,” she said.
In 2018, the Sisters gifted a large parcel of land in Blackmans Bay to the Tasmanian people on the condition the land be used for affordable housing and supported accommodation for vulnerable women, people with disabilities and families in need.
Work is now underway at the Maryknoll development following a blessing service at the site led by Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous on Friday 19 March. The houses are expected to be completed by mid-2022.
A St Mary’s College alumna, Sr Gabrielle entered the Presentation Novitiate in Melbourne in early 1964 and was professed in 1967. She then spent several years at St Mary’s College teaching and furthering her professional development, before she was chosen to lead the Sisters’ Congregation in Tasmania from 1999 to 2006, and again from 2015 to the present day.
Sr Gabrielle remains a continual presence at St Mary’s College—her office is located in the original convent building—where students and staff address the quest for social justice and contribute financially to a range of charities.
In her current role, she supports and promotes the mission of the Presentation Sisters in Tasmania and meets regularly with the Plenary Council (Australian Presentation Leaders).
The Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women was established in 2005 by the Tasmanian Government to recognise women who have made an outstanding contribution to their communities and, by extension, their state.