Since this year, 2012, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord falls on a Sunday and is transferred to tomorrow, Monday, the opportunity should be taken to acquaint you with Caroline Chisholm; a woman through whose courage, faith and generosity a great deal of good was done on more than one continent. Today is the 135th anniversary of her death.
I have a special desire to honour Caroline because in 2003 she was my Patron Saint for the Year. For this patron the quotation was, “I was enabled to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to serve all justly and impartially and wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand” and the prayer mission was ‘Pray for the unemployed‘. Initially I was quite stumped as to why God had given her to me, and in particular that prayer mission. Considering that I was up to my neck in churchy activities, I could not how the ‘unemployed’ related to me. The year went on, and the more I read about Caroline the more deeply I was impressed by her life. Then in the November of that year parish meetings occurred to shape the vision for a new parish church. After a few thoughts hit me totally out of the blue – thank you Holy Spirit – I could see that God had prepared me through my whole life experience, together with His gifts and talents to be a part of the team that would bring this vision into reality. Indeed, in God’s eyes I had been under-employed and it was time, with His grace, to follow where He was leading me and to serve on that team. The new parish church was opened in late 2007.
Caroline Chisholm nee Jones was born on 30 May 1808 in a village near Northampton. This remarkable woman was raised in England as a Protestant, in a charitable family, where helping the poor and the sick were important values. In 1830 she married Archibald Chisholm, a Scottish Catholic and army officer, and the early years of their marriage were spent in India. Caroline became a Catholic around August in 1831, taking the confirmation name of Monica. In India, Caroline began to provide and organise shelter and educational opportunities for the daughters of soldiers, who otherwise faced concubinage or worse in life.
The Chisholm family came to Australia as a result of Archibald’s poor health. The process of finding work for the migrants to Sydney at this time was unorganized, with landowners eager to take on men without families, while the rest of the migrant population had to depend upon private charity. It was female migrants who fared the worst in this system. Most of the women who arrived were friendless and unprotected, and many were young. Caroline began to find employment situations for as many of these female migrants as possible. Soon the Chisholm home became an unofficial information and advice centre for immigrants. As more immigrants arrived, it became obvious that this work needed to be organized and funded on a public scale. The political climate was not encouraging, as animosity to Catholics in Sydney was intense, and Caroline’s letters to the government and the press received little support.
These difficulties did not stop her. As always, when in doubt or trouble, she prayed for help and guidance. The following prayer is testimony to this: “On Easter Sunday 1841, I was enabled, at the altar of our Lord, (at St Mary’s Cathedral) to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to know neither country nor creed, but to try to serve all justly and impartially. I asked only to be enabled to keep these poor girls from being tempted, by their need, to mortal sin; I resolved that to accomplish this, I would in every way sacrifice my feelings – surrender all comfort – nor in fact consider my own wishes or feelings but wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand. I felt my offering was accepted and God’s blessing was on my work: but it was His will to permit many serious difficulties to be thrown my way, and to conduct me through a rugged path of deep humiliation.”
Because Caroline had resolved to help anyone in need, many avenues of help were closed to her. The Anglicans didn’t give her much help because she was assisting Catholics in need. The Catholic hierarchy didn’t give her much help because she was also assisting Protestants in need. If she had been sectarian in her charitable works aid would have flowed to her like a river, but she stayed firm in her resolve to imitate the Creator who provides for all of his creatures without exception.
Caroline continued to write letters to those of influence, without receiving much encouragement. She then interviewed the Governor, and finally obtained assistance after undertaking not to put the government to any expense. The government gave her the use of a small section of an old barracks. She made this hovel her home, so as to provide protection for these girls. Reluctantly she had to send her children away to Windsor (even today it is at least an hour’s journey by car) with servants. In this old barracks, on the corner of Phillip and Bent Streets, once she had freed it of rats, she began her work in earnest.
With courage she went out to meet the ships that had brought new women immigrants to Sydney’s shores. She had to stand her ground against those who wanted those women as temporary mistresses and others who wanted new recruits for the prostitution trade. If Caroline lost the battle these women would soon be reduced to poverty, squalor and early deaths. Since word soon got out that there was a ready supply of unattached women under Caroline’s protection, much tiring vigilance day and night was needed to keep their reputations safe.
Organizing her employment service in an efficient manner, Caroline arranged personal interviews, and sent questionnaires to country districts inquiring as to wages, conditions, transport, labour needs and other matters. In the first year, employment was found for 700 immigrant women. For Caroline it was not just a case of finding work for these poor women, and sending them to their destination in an unknown land, like the Good Samaritan she did everything in her power to bring about a happy outcome. Caroline conducted most of the immigrant women personally to their new homes, placing them in families of humble but respectable people of good character. In doing this she was able to judge the situation in each farm before entrusting the women to them. Caroline travelled as far as Port Macquarie,Bathurst, Armidale, Yass and Gundagai. All along the way inns refused to charge her for accommodation, and coaches carried women and children free. No bushranger ever attacked these expeditions. One journey started out with about 150 and ended up along the road with 240 as men in need of employment joined the travelers.
As Caroline went, she set up registry offices in regional places that could notify her of employment opportunities and serve to keep in touch with those already employed. To prevent squabbles, employment contracts were in triplicate, one for the master, one for the servant and one for Caroline’s files. This work earned the praise of the government, and Caroline was called upon to advise the government concerning the needs of rural citizens on several occasions. Her health suffered as a result of these journeys and as a consequence of the heavy work load which the fulfillment of her promise to God entailed.
In her mind, family was crucial for good society, so to this end Caroline worked for the re-uniting of family members (who had been separated by convict transportation) and the immigration of complete families. She worried over the system of transportation which ‘has doomed tens of thousands to the demoralizing state of bachelorism’. On a visit back to England to bring out wives and children she told the authorities ‘for all the clergy you can dispatch, all the school masters you can appoint, all the churches you can build and all the books you can export, you will never do much without God’s police – wives and little children.’ And in answer to those who thought that Australia should become a place of great land owners and vast sheep stations she replied, ‘Children ought to take precedence over sheep.’
In the late 1840s and the early 1850s, Caroline and Archibald with their six children returned to England. Here she continued to advocate for family re-union in the new colonies and better conditions on board ship. In 1854 the family returned to Australia, this time to Melbourne. Here Caroline became involved in the social problems that the Gold Rush brought with it. She helped organize shelters along the way for families travelling to and from the gold fields and advocated for land sales to small settlers. When she became ill in 1858, the family moved back to Sydney where Caroline ran a school for a while. With her health again declining due to kidney troubles, Caroline, Archibald and the three youngest children returned to England. Here they lived modestly on a small government pension.
Bedridden for the final years of her life in London, Caroline died on 25 March 1877 in obscurity. Archibald died a few months later. The cause for her canonization began in 1976, but such a task is well nigh impossible if you don’t have the resources of a religious order behind you. If Caroline had died in Australia, her burial place would have quickly become a place of pilgrimage. Because she died in England, her final resting place in Northampton has taken much longer to become a place where people seek her intercession. Since most of her good works were done in Australia there is more will here to progress her cause, but the local bishop of the English diocese where she died is the one canonically responsible for her cause. Thus it is far more difficult than usual to advance her cause, but not impossible to God.
Caroline was undaunted by politicians, church leaders, government officials, ship’s captains, rats, privations, ocean voyages, foreign cultures, death of her new born child or ill health. With God she did indeed do bravely.
An excellent source for more information about Caroline is www.mrschisholm.com . Make sure that you read each of the sub-documents in the ‘In Her own Words’ section. A prayer seeking her intercession follows…. (When you receive answers to prayer from Caroline’s intercession, let firstname.lastname@example.org know about it.)
We thank You, most loving and merciful God, for the admirable life of Caroline Chisholm, who heard Your call in youth and responded as a woman of patient, energetic faith. With the support of her husband Archibald and her children, she assisted people in need, irrespective of their country or creed, by social reforms and charitable work, especially re-uniting families, protecting vulnerable girls, placing the unemployed in gainful work and achieving improvements for poor emigrants. According to Your providential Will, may we receive the favours we ask through her intercession……………………………………….. and may her heroic virtue be recognized and her example followed throughout the world, leading the Church to number her among Your saints.
Caroline Chisholm, pray for us.