The Early Years – The Journey
In the late 1880’s Mansfield’s clusters of Irish settlers purchased a two-acre block near the church, with the idea of attracting an order of religious sisters. In July 1891 Mesdames Hearn, Begley, Gardiner and Kennedy (widow of Sergeant Kennedy, shot by Ned Kelly at Stringybark Creek in 1878) met with Archbishop Carr to request a community of nuns to provide a Catholic education to the children of the district.
On the 11th of July 1891, a pioneer party consisting of five, Parish Priest Fr O’Hanlon, Mother Alacoque Ryan, Mother Agnes Ryan, Mother Ignatius Walsh and Sister Martha Redmoira arrived in Mansfield on a dreary evening in the depths of winter.
Their train had left Spencer Street at 8am, arriving in Maindample at the end of the line 8 miles (approximately 10km) outside of Mansfield at 5pm.
The priest who had accompanied them from Melbourne was disconcerted to find no-one to welcome them at Maindample Station. They waited for some time and regained their composure when at last curate, Fr Cusack arrived with a wagonette.
At last they would be whisked off to the warm comfort of the presbytery, but Fr Cusack had not made allowances for the horse’s capacity. The combined six adults together with their luggage proved too taxing; the horse stumbled and the vehicle became bogged on the muddy road.
There are two stories’s telling of how the group finally made their way to the presbytery in Mansfield, so I will tell them both as I’m not sure which one is the truth.
The first story tells that after some time a bullock-wagon came into view (bullock-wagons were very common at this time, as Mansfield was a large saw milling area). The nuns and their luggage were loaded onto it, logs and all were unceremoniously transported into Mansfield. The other story basically says that Fr O’Hanlon lightened the load and took two of the party into Mansfield before returning for the other three. Whatever the truth, it seems that neither the priests nor the nuns wished to disclose their involvement with a bullock-wagon, least of all not on this the foundation trip.
The long day was forgotten when they reached the presbytery and were greeted by bright faces, warm expressions and hospitality. The two priests decided to stay at the hotel, leaving the presbytery to the nuns until their convent was ready for habitation.