The history of the Society of the Sacred Heart Australia New Zealand Province began with a request from Bishop Pompallier to Madeleine Sophie Barat, Founder and Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, to send religious to New Zealand. She was unable to help at the time but on 19 January 1880 a group of five sisters reached Timaru. In 1905 the Society spread from the South Island to Island Bay in Wellington, in the north, and then to Baradene in Auckland in 1908.
The school at Timaru was entrusted to Suzannah Boudreaux, a native of Louisiana and the child of a poor family. Suzannah had been adopted by Philippine Duchesne and through this connection she came to love the Society and made her vows at seventeen. The school at Timaru was closed in 1935 but loyal alumnae kept a centre in the South Island to which the Society later returned.
In 1879 Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan reacted to a government initiative to make education compulsory, secular and free. He invited several congregations to send teaching religious to Sydney to ensure that Catholic education was provided. In 1880 the Archbishop’s request was transmitted to the Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Paris.
On 9 May 1882, five Religious of the Sacred Heart arrived in Sydney. The Superior of the group was Febronie Vercruysse, a Belgian. The Sisters expected to start a day school but were asked to set up a boarding school because there were few in Sydney at the time. Claremont, on the hill above Rose Bay, was chosen as the site for the first Sacred Heart school in Australia. By 1888 there were three boarding schools and three free schools.
The French Connection
In 1904 the anticlerical government in France confiscated Sacred Heart schools and properties and 2,500 religious had to leave the country. The convents in Australia and New Zealand opened their doors to many of them. This, rather than the Society’s origin in France, gave the Society of the Sacred Heart a French ethos in Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century.
To the East
In 1907, Pius X requested the Jesuits and Religious of the Sacred Heart to send personnel to Japan as the Emperor has requested Christian higher education. In 1908 this foundation in Tokyo became part of the Sydney Vicariate and the Society spread to Shanghai that same year.
Many RSCJ from the Society of the Sacred Heart Australia New Zealand Province became missionaries to the Orient, even after Japan became a Province in its own right in 1926.