Rosary House Sisters

Rosary House Sisters, thus known because all their convents were named 'Rosary House', were formally the Home Missionary Sisters of Our Lady, and from 1971 the Missionary Sisters of Service. The only religious order founded in Tasmania, it is arguably Tasmania's most significant contribution to Catholicism in Australia. Launceston priest Father John Wallis formed its first community in 1944, to promote Christianity in isolated rural areas. He aimed for the sisters to develop 'a sturdy, self-reliant spirituality, regulated rather by faith and the missionary spirit than by formal rules and regulations'.

The sisters ran correspondence courses for children on Bass Strait islands, and took religious instruction to Hydro construction villages and other remote places, each pair living in a caravan they towed themselves, as they were the first nuns in Australia, and perhaps the world, permitted to drive cars. They were also the first to wear hats instead of veils when outdoors, and have skirts that were not ankle-length, as Fr Wallis realised traditional garb would be an impediment when changing tyres. Their institute attracted many mainlanders and spread to other states, New Zealand and Singapore. Their work expanded to include training lay catechists and working with migrants, refugees, young people and prisoners. The sisters' headquarters are now in Melbourne.

Further reading: J Wallis, Into the highways and byways, Melbourne, 1952, State Library of Victoria.

PA Howell