The Missionary Sisters of Service returned to the Victorian birthplace of the congregation’s founder, Fr John Corcoran Wallis yesterday to launch a book of the visionary priest’s letters home.
By Fiona Basile, Missionary Sisters of Service
The Yea library was the location for yesterday’s launch of Dear Mother, Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927–1949, written by his niece, Sr Bernadette Wallis MSS.
John Wallis left home at 16 to enter the seminary and was ordained for the Hobart Diocese, Tasmania, at age 22. The following year, he was sent on “on mission” to Bruny Island to visit isolated Catholic families. He travelled by ferry, bicycle, on horse and by foot, often through thick bush and rugged terrain. While there, he met a mother with four small children, Kit Hawkins, who asked the fledgling priest, “Father, why can’t we have sisters to teach our children? Doesn’t anyone care about us people in the bush?” It was 11 years later that he founded the Missionary Sisters of Service, an Australian congregation of Catholic women.
Today there are 26 Missionary Sisters of Service still living in Australia – mainly in Melbourne, Toowoomba and Hobart. They celebrated their 75-year anniversary throughout 2019.
The book features 100 letters written by Wallis during his seminary years, priesthood and in the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service. The letters provide a unique snapshot into the man and the era, with each chapter also including a special commentary by eminent Australians.
“John loved the land and the bush, and his rural upbringing influenced his interest in country people and their issues,” Sr Bernadette said. “Also having had three siblings who were profoundly deaf, John had a special interest in people who lived on the edge of society. Inclusiveness was important to him.
“John died in 2001 aged 91. He would be amazed at how the Missionary Sisters of Service have developed their legacy, Highways & Byways – a Community of Service, their mission organisation that aims to strengthen communities, supporting people experiencing hardship and disadvantage especially in rural Australia.”
Launch of Dear Mother Dear Father in Yea, Victoria (Missionary Sisters of Service)