Between 1863 and 1946, Good Shepherd houses opened around Australia: in Oakleigh and Albert Park in Melbourne, Bendigo, Hobart, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. In addition, houses were opened in New Zealand, in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. Girls and women were placed with Good Shepherd through various sources: courts, government agencies, child welfare organizations, parents or guardians. Some stayed for very short periods of time and others for longer. In relatively few cases, women chose to remain for many years.
As with anyone looking back over life, for Good Shepherd there are things to celebrate and things to regret. We celebrate the courage of the first four sisters who arrived in Melbourne on board the Forest Rights on 24th June 1863. In those first years of the establishment of Good Shepherd at Abbotsford, numbers of women came voluntarily, mostly destitute and often in ill health. Although donations were received from members of the public and the sisters initially took in sewing, there was insufficient income to provide for the needs of the residents. As a result, in 1864, the laundry in Abbotsford was opened. In the years that followed, laundries became part of each of the Good Shepherd residential houses that were established around Australia, their main purpose being to ensure adequate income to support the residents who came or were placed there.
Over the years, many women have kept contact with the Sisters that they knew. Many have told us that they are grateful for the time they spent with Good Shepherd. We celebrate the fact that we were able to be there for these women when, as young people, they needed our support and help. We also celebrate the lives of numbers of Good Shepherd Sisters who dedicated themselves to serving, as best they could, the girls and women in their care. They often worked long hours in stressful situations to do this. And we also celebrate the lives of all the women who passed through our residences and have courageously faced and worked within life’s challenges.
We acknowledge, however, that for numbers of women, memories of their time with Good Shepherd are painful. We are deeply sorry for acts of verbal or physical cruelty that occurred: such things should never have taken place in a Good Shepherd facility. The understanding that we have been the cause of suffering is our deep regret as we look back over our history.
The closure of all the larger residential facilities by the latter part of the 1970s has seen new and exciting developments in Good Shepherd. Our agencies for young people and their families in Melbourne and Sydney, St Clare’s School in Perth, Good Shepherd Aged Services in Melbourne, Good Shepherd Microfinance nationally, and The Trading Circle supporting women struggling to escape poverty in developing countries, are all cause for celebration as we look ahead. Each of these agencies faces its own challenges, and all are completely committed to the continuing provision of services for marginalised women and girls that will give renewed hope and life.
As with all big “0” birthdays, we will celebrate this one! And then we will move on into whatever the future holds for Good Shepherd with faith that the Good Shepherd will keep our feet on right paths as we journey together.