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Gibbons, Geraldine Scholastica (1817–1901)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

Geraldine Scholastica Gibbons (1817-1901), mother superior, was born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, daughter of Gerald Gibbons, who was connected with Daniel O'Connell and most of the Cork gentry, and his wife Mary, née Sughrue, niece of the bishop of Ferns. Educated in Cork she arrived in Sydney with her family in 1834. Her father's ventures in business were unsuccessful. Geraldine and a sister joined the newly-arrived Sisters of Charity; on 17 July 1847 Geraldine was professed as Scholastica and began work in the Female Factory at Parramatta. On 9 April 1848 she went to Sydney to establish a home for penitent women in Campbell Street; it was moved to Carter's Barracks in March 1849.

Mother Scholastica succeeded her sister, Mother Ignatius (d. 20 March 1853), as superior of the order in preference to Baptist de Lacy. She launched the appeal to establish St Vincent's Hospital which she entrusted to Sister de Lacy's management while she stayed on alone at the women's home. To relieve the pressure on her, Archbishop John Bede Polding decided to found an order following Benedictine rules but suited to Australian conditions. He found a group of volunteers and requested Mother Scholastica to be superior of both orders. On 2 February 1857 she helped to establish the Community of the Good Shepherd which took the name of the Good Samaritan to avoid confusion with a similar congregation in Europe. Both communities prospered under the rule of this efficient, dedicated and retiring nun who always wore the habit of the Charity order while living with the Good Samaritans. In 1859 she was reluctantly involved when St Vincent's Hospital became the centre of an outburst of sectarianism and a cause of Catholic faction fighting. 'The Battle of the Bible', started by a minor misunderstanding, flared up into a major blaze after Sister de Lacy gave a distorted version to John Hubert Plunkett and the press.

Mother Scholastica gradually relinquished responsibility in the Charity congregation, although no superior was elected until 1864. On 6 September 1876 she resigned her charge of the Good Samaritans, returned to her original allegiance and served the poor from the Charity Convent in Hobart until 1885. Unable to find the peace she desired, she yielded to the requests of her former novices and returned to Rosebank Convent, Five Dock. Aged 85 she died at Marrickville on 15 October 1901 and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. In 1945 her body was reinterred at Rosebank College. Two flourishing religious congregations remain as monuments to her zeal and industry.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 6 June 1859
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 11 June 1859
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney)
  • Sisters of Charity Archives (St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point, Sydney)
  • Sisters of the Good Samaritan Archives (St Scholastica's Convent, Glebe, Sydney).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Gibbons, Geraldine Scholastica (1817–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Scholastica, Mother

Kinsale, Cork, Ireland


15 October, 1901 (aged ~ 84)
Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.