SISTER Margaret O’Sullivan has contributed to religious instruction and education for the majority of life.
The Sister of St Joseph was born and raised on her family’s farm west of Kempsey.
Dorothy and Paddy O’Sullivan were farming folk, and reared six children on their isolated property.
Margaret was one of two girls, and was fortunate to have four brothers.
“It is a beautiful part of the world up there in the bush,” she says.
“It is a long way from anywhere, 65 kilometres from Kempsey down the end of a dirt road.”
Due to the farm’s isolation, the O’Sullivan brood were sent to Port Macquarie to be educated during the 1950s.
Margaret started boarding school at just six years of age.
“We had no other choice,” she said.
“There was no other way for us to get an education.”
The O’Sullivans were taught by the Sisters of St Joseph, the order founded by Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods in 1866.
The children were educated at St Joseph’s Primary School, which was located in an old printing office on Horton Street at the time.
“In those days there were no lay teachers, so the sisters were responsible for everything,” Margaret says.
The formative influence of the nuns made an indelible impression on young Margaret.
After finishing her formal education, she went into the convent at Lochinvar to train as a Sister of St Joseph.
Her time in the Hunter Valley instilled in her a reverence for the faith, and a life-long dedication to education.
After taking her vows, she worked in a number of different roles for the Catholic Church in places like Wingam, Gloucester and Port Macquarie.
She returned to the Hastings Valley to work as a pastoral assistant in the late 1970s.
She has seen many changes and significant events throughout her time in Port Macquarie.
“I was there when St Agnes Primary School was built, and when St Peter’s Primary was built too,” she says.
In 1995, Sister Margaret was able to take a sabbatical for a year in Melbourne.
“That was really a wonderful time,” she says.
“It was wonderful to be able to take some time out, and come back feeling really inspired and recharged.”
Her next posting was to Sydney, where she began work in aged care.
“I work three days at St Joseph’s in Auburn, which is an aged care facility.
“I’ve just finished reading with some residents who are part of a prayer group, and they’ve been asking me all about my visit to Port Macquarie last week.”
Sr Margaret was a special guest at the centenary of Catholic education celebrations in Port Macquarie last Friday.
“I was just telling the residents what a fantastic occasion it was,” she says.
“The kids were a credit to their parents and teachers, and I came back feeling really inspired.
“I also told the residents that the roads up there have improved incredibly, and the sad thing is I have not.”
One thing that has not changed over the years is Sister Margaret’s commitment to her faith.
“I am absolutely guided by my faith,” she says.
“One of the main things with our order is to make sure the mission is carried on, and to facilitate it happening for years to come.
“We recognise that we are living in a different world now, and people can be involved in the mission of the Church in different ways.
“People commit themselves to the mission of the Church through things like teaching and nursing, and vocations have changed over time.
“I have no regret at the path I have chosen, because I know the Sisters of St Joseph have fulfilled and continue to fulfill a vital mission.
“You only have to look at the success of Catholic education in Port Macquarie.
“Consider the fruits that have come from such humble beginnings, in a shop on Horton Street with 29 children.”
Sister Margaret O’Sullivan outside St Joseph’s Primary School in Port Macquarie.
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