Sisters of the Good Samaritan

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The Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan is a Roman Catholic congregation of religious women commenced by Bede Polding, OSB,[1] Australia’s first Catholic bishop, in Sydney in 1857. The congregation was the first religious congregation to be founded in Australia. The sisters form an apostolic institute that follows the Rule of Saint Benedict. They take their name from the well-known gospel parable of the Good Samaritan.

Under the guidance of Polding’s co-founder, Mother Scholastica Gibbons, a Sister of Charity, the sisters cared for needy, homeless women at a refuge, the House of the Good Shepherd in Sydney, and orphans at the Roman Catholic Orphan School, a government institution at Parramatta. Foundations were made throughout Sydney and New South Wales as bishops urgently requested staff for Catholic schools. The first foundation outside New South Wales was made at Port Pirie, South Australia, in 1890, and since then sisters have served in all states and territories of Australia.

During the first one hundred years, education was a major focus of the sisters’ work. The work of the women’s refuge changed after World War II, when young women were referred from the Children’s Court to the care of the sisters at St Magdalen’s Arncliffe. A new ministry began in 1957 when Mater Dei Special School, Narellan opened at the request of the New South Wales bishops to provide a Catholic education for students with special needs.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the sisters responded to the call of the Second Vatican Council to embrace the charism of their founder. They diversified their ministries to include catechetics, parish work, and support for indigenous people, the elderly, the homeless, prisoners and people with disabilities. They also shared their rich Benedictine spirituality by giving retreats and spiritual direction. During this era, the education of students in the Good Samaritan schools and colleges became a shared ministry with lay people.

Increasingly, the congregation was called to listen to the needs of the wider Asia-Pacific region. Sisters went to Japan in 1948, in response to an appeal for help from the Bishop of Nagasaki. Initially, they established a dispensary to care for victims of the 1945 atomic bomb, but later went on to open a secondary school and kindergarten.

In a spirit of reconciliation with their Asian neighbours, the Good Samaritan Japanese sisters desired to begin a community in the Philippines. The community established in Bacolod City in 1990, provides a kindergarten school for the children of the very poor. In 1991, the sisters began to work in Kiribati at the request of the local bishop and founded communities and a preschool centre.

Today, 272 Good Samaritan Sisters live and minister throughout Australia and in Japan, the Philippines, Kiribati and Timor Leste. They and the wider Good Samaritan family continue to seek God and to live out the injunction of the Good Samaritan parable to be a good neighbour to those in need.


This article incorporates text from a publication by Marilyn Kelleher SGS, Annals of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, published 2010, Volume II - 1938-1949, pp.11-12.

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