How it all began

Mother Martyria (left) and Mother Basilea
Mother Martyria (left) and Mother Basilea (right) 

During a visit to Mt. Sinai in 1963, the Lord laid it on Mother Basilea’s heart to intercede for the nations. This was the place where God had given His Commandments to Israel and the world, and now in one country after another they were being disregarded. Sharing the Father’s grief, Mother Basilea (pictured right) sensed that He was calling her to send her spiritual daughters out into all the world to found new branches and to cast out once again the “golden lifelines of Mt. Sinai”, which are His Commandments.

At that time Mother Basilea prayed a special blessing for the branch in Australia, although there was not even a hint of such a branch on the horizon. Who in Australia had ever heard of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary? How many of the Sisters knew anything about Australia? Yet the seed was planted.

In the late 1960’s John Hall, a young theology student in Australia, read an article about the Sisterhood in a Christian magazine and a recently published book by M. Basilea Schlink, “And None Would Believe It.” Both made a deep impact on John, and left him wanting to know more about the Sisterhood and all it stood for.

Through a series of amazing circumstances, in 1970 God enabled John and his wife Margaret to attend a ten-day retreat with other English-speaking guests at Canaan in Germany. They were overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence. Everything at Canaan seemed to declare the goodness of God, and they knew that this was what they had been looking for. Before John and Margaret returned to Australia, Sister Pista asked them if they would like to become Canaan Friends. They agreed and asked, “What can we do to help?” It was decided that they could look after the mailing list of 127 people in Australia and New Zealand and show the Canaan audio-visuals.

Then, in 1974, Sister Pista visited Australia to launch the film, “God Lives and Works Today.” John and Margaret formally became the Canaan Representatives in Australia, and the numbers of Australians interested in the work of the Sisters grew. A group from St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney visited Canaan in Germany, and from then on, Canon Jim Glennon introduced the Canaan ministry to thousands of people through his sermons which were broadcast nationwide. There would not be enough room here to mention all the friends who helped with mailings, travelled with the audio visuals, spread the literature or promoted the Canaan ministry in other ways. Their names are recorded in heaven and God will remember and reward them according to His promise, “What you did to the least of these… you did unto Me” (see Matthew 10:42 and 25:40)

Soon the Sisters were receiving one request after another for a Canaan centre, and in 1979 Mother Basilea received the inner assurance that it was God’s timing. There would be a branch in Australia, which would serve the needs, not only of Australia and New Zealand, but also of South East Asia, the South Pacific Islands and the Indian sub-continent.

When Sister Josepha arrived in Australia to apply for incorporation, she found an already active nucleus of Canaan Friends. Among them was a young solicitor, Greg Bertram, who worked untiringly on all the legal aspects, and on 5th September, 1979 the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary Ltd. was officially incorporated. By then Sister Josepha had already returned to Germany, leaving two Canaan Friends in charge of packing and posting out orders from the “Canaan Office” at the Sisters of Mercy in Ryde. Scheduled to return in November with two other Sisters, and to be followed by more the following year, Sister Josepha saw that there would not be enough room at the Sisters of Mercy. An advertisement was placed in a religious news bulletin.

Taking care of the Canaan ministry was not a full-time job in those days. Two Canaan Friends spent one day a week packing and posting. For Leone Morony this was usually on a Monday. One day Leone felt she should go to Ryde on a Friday morning instead. Without a doubt it was the Lord’s prompting. A phone call came from Sister Elizabeth at the Good Samaritan Convent in Pennant Hills. Sister Elizabeth had been praying for a suitable tenant for an empty wing of their novitiate building. She wanted Leone to inspect it immediately.

The building was spacious, to say the least - four storeys high and surrounded by lovely gardens. And there were more than enough bedrooms to house all the Sisters who would be coming. It seemed perfect! Leone wrote that very night to Mother Basilea, giving a full account of all that had happened, and then she waited.

There was no e-mail in those days, and overseas phone calls were expensive. Time was running out, and a decision had to be made. Leone felt so strongly that this was the Lord’s choice that she went ahead in faith. Beds were made up, new towels and linen put in the cupboards, and the fridge and pantry lovingly stocked with food. Unknown to the Sisters in Darmstadt, Leone had already “taken possession” for the Sisters.

On 14th November 1979, the first three Sisters designated for the branch set foot on Australian soil. The Bible verses received in prayer for this new beginning were apt: “My presence will go with you…” (Exodus 33:14) and “You will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:15).

And thus the Sisters’ “great Australian adventure” began…

You can read more on our history in the book Realities - "Down Under"