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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McLaughlin, Clara Jane (Mother Berchams) (1856–1931)

by Pamela Pullen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Clara Jane (Mother Berchams) McLaughlin (1856-1931), Sister of the Good Samaritan, was born on 25 January 1856 at Sodwalls, New South Wales, sixth daughter of John McLaughlin, innkeeper, and his wife Mary Clare, née Loftus, both from Ballina, Mayo, Ireland. Clara was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Bathurst and entered the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict at the House of the Good Shepherd, Pitt Street, Sydney, on 2 February 1876, taking the religious name Mary Berchmans. The congregation had been founded in 1857 by Archbishop Polding to assist needy women but its members soon became involved in education. Sister Berchmans was professed on 25 March 1879 and taught at various schools in New South Wales. She was appointed superior of St Patrick's Convent, Campbelltown, in 1890 and of Rosebank Convent in 1893.

On 21 December 1898 Mother Berchmans was elected superior general of the congregation. She initiated a great expansion in the work of the Good Samaritans—in 1890 there was only one community outside New South Wales, at Port Pirie, South Australia. Over the next eighteen years she provided Sisters for remote outback missions in Queensland, crowded suburbs in Melbourne and new ones in Brisbane, and farming settlements in Victoria. The number of communities increased from 19 to 39 and of Sisters from 167 to 373.

When the Pitt Street convent was demolished in 1901 Mother Berchmans found Toxteth Park at Glebe, which she transformed into a mother house, St Scholastica's Convent, and there opened a secondary school in 1901 and St Scholastica's Training College in 1906. She introduced changes in Catholic education in line with current trends and procured teachers of science such as Sarah Brennan and of art and music. In 1911 she moved the novitiate to Randwick. She strongly influenced her congregation and set in motion the process for the full approbation by the Vatican of the congregation and its constitutions.

Retiring as superior general in 1916, Mother Berchmans was assistant general to her successor in 1916-28. She planned and oversaw the building of a new four-storey novitiate, Mount St Benedict, at Pennant Hills where she was superior in 1926-31. She died there on 3 August 1931 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. She had 'a large heart and a great fund of common sense, which allied to a remarkable ability in administration, spelt success for everything she touched'.

Select Bibliography

  • Sisters of the Good Samaritan, The Wheeling Years (Syd, 1957), and Annals, 1968, and Archives (Glebe Point, New South Wales)
  • Catholic Press, 13 Aug 1931
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 13 Aug 1931.

Citation details

Pamela Pullen, 'McLaughlin, Clara Jane (Mother Berchams) (1856–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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