Head of House: Mulhall

Learning from the Legacy of the “Little Mother”

In the wake of Elaine McDonald’s talk about the legacy of Mary Ward earlier this year, I was prompted to think about Mother Stanislaus Mulhall, the special Loreto woman after whom our own House is named. When I read her biography a number of years ago, I couldn’t help but recognise the resonances between her story and that of the contemporary members of Mulhall House and thus, we have been working to advance the awareness of her story within our own community this year.

Born in 1851 in Ireland, Barbara Stanislaus Mulhall was a gifted musician, an avid reader of fiction and a budding dramatist. One of 13 children, she was never able to resist a dare from her younger brother, a fact which often led her into trouble. She was sent to Loreto boarding school at the age of 12, experiencing great homesickness at being away from her beloved home. One of the stories recounted about this period in her life told of a school walk from which she absconded in order to sneak off to buy sweets, earning her a sharp scolding from none other than Mother Gonzaga Barry herself.

At the age of 15 she recognised her calling to join the Loreto sisters, believing that each person has a unique purpose in life and that each one of us needs to discern that purpose and find the strength to carry it out. While not part of the first group of Loreto sisters to journey to Australia, she followed eight years later, believing (mistakenly) that in following her call to serve God through her mission to the children of Australia, she would never see her homeland again. While on the journey she saw porpoises playing as she stood wrapped in a borrowed dressing gown, saw a far off light that turned out to be Krakatoa, and upon reaching Adelaide, refused the offer of a banana, believing them to be too exotic to be safe.

Spending much of her ministry in Ballarat, Mother Mulhall was a teacher and founder of the first Loreto orchestra. In 1884 she was appointed Mistress of Novices – a position she was very anxious about assuming. One of her novices wrote, “The years of the novitiate were a foretaste of Heaven; made so, largely by her sweetness, sympathetic understanding of character and happy cooperation in all our undertakings.” By no means an ‘easy mark’ however, another novice remembered, “Her displeasure which focused on me was an experience not to be forgotten in a lifetime.”

After the death of Mother Gonzaga Barry, Stanislaus Mulhall was appointed as the second Provincial of the Institute in Australia, a position which she again, felt unsure about. But just like before, she recognised the call to service, put aside her fears and took a risk.

Mother Mulhall had a tendency to be very strict with herself, giving up many things she loved in order to focus her energy on what she perceived to be most important. She would often get frustrated with herself and her friends and guides would often counsel her to be more compassionate with herself – advice that I suspect might be as valid for all of us today.

We often draw on the words of Mary Ward and Gonzaga Barry to inspire us as a community, and as a House we also draw on the spirit, history and wisdom of our own “Little Mother” who advised, “Let us not lose one moment of that life and let us make it full. God calls us to be instruments in His hand; let us be fit instruments…Never do anything by halves, be earnest in all you do.”

 

Ms Patti Taaffe

Head of Mulhall