A concise history of the Abbotsford Convent

I went again for a walk to the Convent today and wandered for the first time in the main gardens. The parents of the Steiner primary school were out in force again forging a garden around the school building. This evening, I found a nice little summary of the Convent’s history in a 2003 Sydney Morning Herald article. It talks of the pictured English Oak, thought to have been planted (if I read the article right) by Edward Curr, the owner of St Hellier’s cottage in the 1850s. The article says, in part:

“This self-sufficient community occupied a series of beautiful Gothic buildings set on a rise amid gardens and paddocks on the Yarra. There was a vast French medieval-style convent, a bluestone church, school, orphanage, re-education centre, large commercial laundry, massive basement stores, a bakery, kitchen and working farm with stables, piggeries, dairy and chicken coops. On the far side of the river, the wooded cliffs of Studley Park created a bush backdrop, adding to the air of remote tranquillity.

The Order of the Good Shepherd Sisters was founded in France in 1835 by St Mary Euphrasia Pelletier to care for women in need. It combined this role with a monastic life of prayer that was not to change until the evolution in religious life that took place after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

In 1860s Victoria, the gold rushes created a huge disruption in family life. Women, deserted when their husbands went to the diggings, often turned to prostitution to support themselves and their children. A concerned Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, James Goold, invited the Good Shepherd Sisters to Melbourne. They arrived in June 1863 in their white serge habits and black veils and, borrowing the archbishop’s carriage, went hunting for a house.”

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