Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Margaret MacRory (1862–1931)

by Mary Shanahan

This article was published:

Margaret MacRory (1862-1931), religious Sister, was born on 18 December 1862 at Ballygawley, Tyrone, Ireland, daughter of Francis MacRory, farmer, and his second wife Rose, née Montague. Her brother Joseph, older by a year, became a cardinal and primate of all Ireland. Margaret had her early schooling with the Sisters of Mercy and from 16 as a boarder at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Armagh. She entered the novitiate of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Roehampton, London, in August 1881. Before completing her noviceship she was sent to Le Mans, France, to work in the school of the congregation as an assistant-teacher until recalled briefly to London in 1884.

Margaret arrived in Sydney on 4 November 1885. She taught at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay, in 1886-94 and was professed there on 2 July 1889. In Melbourne in 1894-1902 she taught at the congregation's boarding school in Burke Road, Malvern, and returned as headmistress to the nearby day school in 1907-10, after spending the intervening years at the new and short-lived school in Bourke Street, Sydney.

This tall, slender and fair Irishwoman was a dynamic teacher who gained the confidence of her students by her love for and interest in each one. In 1910 she was appointed headmistress of Rose Bay and under her guidance the school grew in numbers. She brought the school curriculum into line with requirements for registration and invited government inspection. From 1915 the students were prepared for public examinations. She founded an ex-students association in 1912 and by her personal contacts created the strong bonds that still characterize that association.

In 1923 Mother MacRory was chosen to open a house in City Road, Darlington, for Catholic women at the University of Sydney. Her time there was broken by a call to Rome to attend a retreat for English-speaking superiors of the congregation. She visited England, Scotland and Ireland where she strengthened her bonds with her brother Joseph, then a bishop, and travelled through the United States of America, inspecting liberal arts colleges run by the congregation.

On her return Mother MacRory was responsible for the building of the residence within the university for Catholic women on part of the land of St John's College. She established its independence from St John's, whose rector had seen the new foundation as simply an extension of his college. She could not prevent the foundation stone from bearing the inscription 'In honorem St Joannis Evangelistae'—but the new hall, which opened in 1926 with Mother MacRory in charge, became Sancta Sophia. Under her guidance the number of students increased and a wing of twenty-four rooms was added in 1927.

When in 1929 legislation established Sancta Sophia as a college within the University of Sydney, the council appointed her as its first principal. She chose the crest of the college with its symbols of truth and wisdom. Her own wisdom and understanding with her readiness to listen to others and to learn from them tempered her slightly authoritarian nature and won her students' respect and confidence. She died of septicaemia on 23 May 1931 at Sancta Sophia and was buried at Rose Bay. In five years she had established a tradition of scholarship based on Christian values following the motto of her choosing—'Walk in Wisdom'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Barlow, Living Stones (Syd, 1982)
  • Provincial Archives of the Society of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay, Sydney, including D. Loughnan, Life of Margaret MacRory.

Citation details

Mary Shanahan, 'MacRory, Margaret (1862–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • MacRory, Mother

18 December, 1862
Ballygawley, Tyrone, Ireland


23 May, 1931 (aged 68)
Darlington, 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.

Religious Influence

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.