In June 1867, Mary MacKillop, co-founder with Father Julian Woods of the Sisters of St Joseph, arrived in Adelaide to open the first Josephite school there. Their principal aim was to educate children from poor families and, where necessary, to provide care and accommodation for destitute or disadvantaged persons of all ages. Many young women joined the Order and so, under Mary’s leadership, they were able to expand beyond education and take charge of an orphanage, establish a Refuge or half-way house for former prisoners and single mothers and open a House of Providence for homeless or destitute women, especially the frail aged.
The Providence received its first guest on 16 June 1868, just one year after Mary’s arrival in the city. From its inception until the 1890s, it was the only non-government agency in South Australia that provided residential aged care. For many years the Sisters relied on the minimal board paid by the women and donations of money or food from the public for their running costs. Facilities were often small and the people had to share rooms. For most of them, however, these conditions were better than what they had left behind and the Sisters made sure that everyone received adequate food and care.
Over the years, demand for places at St Joseph’s Providence increased. Therefore, as one house became overcrowded, the Sisters found a larger one and moved the residents there.
After several such moves they found a place on West Terrace, Adelaide, where they stayed for almost 50 years. Then, in 1951, they moved the home to its present location in suburban Cowandilla. In the 1970’s they changed its name to Flora McDonald in honour of Mary MacKillop’s mother, Flora.
Throughout the facility’s long history, the frail aged have always received the Sisters’ special care although, over the years, they have also accommodated some younger people, especially those who were homeless or had an intellectual or severe physical disability. While in the city, they also provided food and clothing for vagrant men who came begging at their door. Today, their facilities are open to men as well as women.
Mary MacKillop always felt a special concern for sick and dying Sisters and did her best to provide them with every comfort. The Josephites have continued this tradition of care over the years. Until the opening of Tappeiner Court Nursing Home in 1972 the Sisters were nursed in an infirmary within their convent at Kensington. Initially, Tappeiner Court was a home for Sisters only. By 1984, however, the number of Josephites requiring care had diminished and the facility was opened to lay people and members of other religious congregations.
In 1987, the Josephites accepted responsibility for St Catherine’s Berri. The Daughters of Charity, who had managed the nursing home since its inauguration in 1961, were no longer able to provide Sisters to staff it. St Catherine’s, which provides residential aged care for the residents of Berri and its surrounds, is an integral part of the local community. The Sisters and staff of this facility follow the tradition of Mary MacKillop in working with and supporting people in rural areas.