The community was founded from England in 1849, and carried on the Benedictine tradition from the country where the Rule of Benedict was first accepted in Convents of women in the seventh century.
Names which stand out in Benedictine Women's history are those of Hildegard of Bingen, Gertrud the Great, Hilda of Whitby, Mildred of Thanet, and Lioba of Wimbourne.
The history of Benedictine nuns is, like so many other stories, one which is strongly part of society and culture as the centuries progressed.
The two founding Mothers who came to Australia from England in 1848, were Scholastica (Jane) Gregory, and Magdalen (Constantia) le Clerc.
Scholastica Gregory was formed as a Benedictine nun at Princethorpe Priory with the intentions of giving her life to the Australian Missions it was known then. Princethorpe Priory was the first Monastery built in England since the Reformation of the sixteenth Century when all Monastic Communities were suppressed. 900 years of Benedictine women's history was brought to a close in England by 1539. The nuns of the Princethorpe community, which was founded in France in 1630, fled from the French Revolutionary Government, and then, by an accidental storm at sea, were directed to the shores of England rather than to the Low Countries of Europe. The Prince of Wales invited these nuns to live in England and assisted them to build their monastery.
The second founding Mother, Magdalen le Clerc, was a nun of Stanbrook Abbey, a community which was originally English and which was resident in Europe in the period of the Counter-Reformation and after. When the French Government suppressed all monasteries in 1792 and then declared war on England in 1793 these English women, exiled since the suppression of the sixteenth century, were imprisoned as victims of the French Government's anti religious policies. Spared the martyrdom of their Carmelite contemporaries, these women arrived as refugees at Dover in 1795. Once in England they became the recipients of the benefits of a very gradual Catholic emancipation which had been taking place at the end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Their friend and Benefactor was the Duke of Clarence. Thus, both founding Mothers emerged from communities which had been through the trials and persecutions of wars in Europe.
The founding father was John Bede Polding, OSB, monk of Downside Abbey, England, and first Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.
He invited the nuns, in 1848, to begin Benedictine monastic life in Australia.
The first home in Australia was a property known in colonial times as 'The Vineyard', and later re-named 'Subiaco' after the solitary cave dwelling of St. Benedict in Italy.
The community lived at 'Subiaco' under the leadership of its Prioresses from 1849 until 1957.
The nuns earned their living by having a school for girls attached to the Monastery, and after 1921, when Papal Enclosure was set in place, they struggled to survive financially by selling parcels of their own land, and then during the Second World War, by making Altar Breads for the Army Chaplains with the Australian and American Troops. The community was forced to move in 1957, when the area around 'Subiaco' (Rydalmere, N.S.W) was claimed for industry.
The nuns then built a new Monastery in Franklin Road, West Pennant Hills, and lived there until 1988, when suburbia encroached to the extent that Monastic life was affected negatively.
In Australia's Bi-Centennial year, the community moved a second time, and bought a property on the Jamberoo Mountain Pass, below the Illawarra Escarpment, in the Illawarra District of New South Wales. The sale of the Pennant Hills Property enabled the community to build a ew Abbey, with natural materials harmonizing with the environment.
back to top