Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese

Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, fondly known as ‘The Brown Sisters’ because of the distinctive colour of the long cloaks and bonnets of their original religious habit, came to the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in 1962.

Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese

Our Lady’s Home was established at Janet St, Merewether, and it is from here that the work of the Order started by Eileen O’Connor and Fr Edward McGrath in 1913 continues to this day.


Reaching out to the “poorest of the poor” - families, individuals, disadvantaged young and frail aged - in their own homes, was the willing endeavour of the initial Sisters sent to Newcastle – Srs Patricia Davoren, Marie Purcell and Greta Gabb.


Over the years other OLN Sisters also became well known friends and helpers of many Novocastrians and are often enquired about, out of fond memories and affection for their compassionate works, viz Srs Pat Byron, Patricia Davis, Gabrielle Bast and Pat Malone.


Sr Margaret Mary Birgan, (the present Sister-in-Charge of Our Lady’s Home, Newcastle) first came to Newcastle in 1984 and has continued the Brown Sisters' “love in action” to this day, the past 14 years on her own as the only Sister in residence. Sr Margaret Mary is also the present Congregational Leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor but her work and close ties with Our Lady’s Home in Newcastle is still a high priority.


“I am continually inspired by the love and generosity of our benefactors and supporters here in Newcastle, who work tirelessly to provide the financial assistance that allows us to continue on a day to day basis.  Many good people really want to help the poor and they do through us, the Brown Sisters.  We couldn’t survive without their vision and assistance.


When we first began the work, welfare services, government and non-government, were not as prevalent as they are now.  But many of the poor, sick and disadvantaged lack the skills, the motivation, the education and the sheer physical capability to reach out and make their plight known.  Poverty, mental illness, physical pain, all of these conditions are a real retardant and inhibitor which means a great number of those most in need is actually hidden within our communities.


Mothers with children face the grim reality of poverty on a daily basis.  The mentally ill, often homeless, certainly marginalised, is one of our greatest poverties in Australia today.  Our isolated frail aged without families, the sick and neglected.  Too many of these people lack the expertise and even the spirit to access formal welfare services.  They are literally beaten before they start.  These are Eileen O’Connor’s special poor, and that is where we are most needed and try so hard to be.


Our numbers may be small, but I have great trust in and admiration for my sister companions.  Each one has brought her own uniqueness, love and God’s gifts to our order.  I am constantly encouraged by them wherever they are.


Vocations?  Sadly too few to fill the need.  I believe it to be vitally important that young people (and those of a more mature age) stop long enough to listen to the LOVE in their life.  The love of which so many never experience even a portion. And then make a life-changing, life-enhancing decision to go to where the need exists."


PHOTO: LtoR Sr Theresa (Cissie) McLaughlin (first companion/'recruit'/ Mother Superior for Eileen O'Connor), Sr Pat Davoran, Sr Marie Purcell (first Mother Superior, Newcastle and Sr Greta Gabb. (From OLN Archives- Coogee)

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