Sydney in the 1880’s, Cardinal Moran of Sydney was instrumental in bringing many religious orders to Australia, and among them, the Little Sisters of the Poor. This second foundation in Australia commenced just two years after that of Melbourne.
On November 1st, 1886, seven Little Sisters disembarked at Port Jackson. Already the Congregation demonstrated the universality of its communities. This little community was made up of five French Sisters, one English, one Irish and one American. The property that Cardinal Moran had acquired for a home for the aged was “Elswick House”, Renwick Street, Leichardt, former residence of the Hon. James Norton M.L.C. It later became the property of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart and today it forms part of the Catholic Education Offices.
On the evening of their arrival the Sisters admitted their first resident; a lady aged 74, in a much debilitated state. She had known the Little Sisters in Melbourne. The death of her husband plunged her into dire poverty and she came, quite confident that she would now have a home. This lady slept in the only bed and the Little Sisters slept on the floor. The people of the neighbourhood soon became aware of the plight of this little community and arrived with furniture, food and willing hands to assist with cleaning and making repairs to the house.
The market collecting commenced immediately, and still continues today. Requests for admission came from all directions.
In 1887, suffering touched this little community. One Sister contracted typhoid fever and died at 34 years of age. Three more Sisters contracted the disease, but fortunately, recovered. As the house at Leichardt was too confined for development, the outbreak of typhoid contributed to the search for a new property.
On July 11th 1887 a property of 6 acres was acquired at Randwick. Two Sisters and a few residents moved into a little rented house to supervise the construction of a temporary timber home on the new property. In November, the remaining Sisters and residents moved to the new location. In 1898 the foundation stone of a new building was laid and on 25th March, 1900 the Opening of the building took place. This building is clearly visible in photos of the Federation Ceremony in Centennial Park in 1901.
Extensions were made over the years. In 1919 the first two wings were added and in 1929 the laundry was built. More extensions were made in 1959 and 1965.
In 1969 St. John Vianney Villa for retired priests was built. This rambling old building, said to have had the very latest in fire equipment, was condemned as a fire trap in 1980. It was demolished to make room for new and modern facilities. The present building opened in 1987. Down through the years, the history of the house records wonderful descriptions of the Providence of God, the generosity of the people of Sydney and the hope, consolation and sense of human dignity brought to so many elderly people.