Who we are

Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.

Ministry Mission

Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.

Peace, Justice, Creation

We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.


We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.

Current News



When Pope John Paul went to Australia in 1986 he made a speech in Alice Springs which is very famous. Four points stand out from that speech. He said Indigenous Australian culture must not be allowed to disappear, that you hold an original understanding of creation, and a long understanding of the environment and sustainability, and cultural revival is very important. So as the Pope went to Australia to reconnect and for reconciliation, Fr Mapelli, director of the Vatican's ethnological exhibitions also travelled with this philosophy. In the far north you can see Melville Island, Bathurst Island, the Tiwi Islands, the Kimberley and then on the West Coast, New Norcia in Perth. The idea was to culturally reconnect through the objects with the people and give voice back to those communities. (Katherine Aignier, Australian National Museum)

Excerpts from the ABC's Encounter program, 21st November, 2010, presented by Margaret Coffey. (The full transcript is available on the Encounter website.)

Margot Neale:

In the 1920s indigenous Catholics from around the world responded to a call from Pope Pius X1 to send objects they thought represented their cultures and spirituality for an exhibition to be held in the Vatican in 1925. Now material was sent from missions [in] Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas and of course included in that was 300 aboriginal objects from the west and northern parts of Australia. The result was of course an arresting spectacle of over 100,000 pieces displaced across 24 rooms. After the exhibition 40,000 of these pieces were kept to form the core of what is now the Vatican's ethnological holdings.

Now these objects from Australia were therefore created and donated by Aboriginal Catholics for their papa in Rome and they are invested with a very strong devotional dimension.

This is evident in the quality of the workmanship. And some works reveal an intriguing personal contribution which are unique to the collection.

This exhibition of Aboriginal artefacts sent to the Vatican one hundred years ago -and it's called Rituals of Life, a journey through the spirituality and culture of the Aboriginal people of Australia. It is a first in several ways: here are two to begin with. For one, the exhibition invites viewers to consider a dynamic and creative encounter between Aboriginal spirituality and culture and Christianity. Second, the National Museum of Australia has worked with the Vatican Museums to produce Rituals of Life... and there was a conference to mark the opening. It was timed by the way to coincide with the canonisation of Mary McKillop.

Unlike many collections of this period these works in this collection were not collected by ethnologists who were motivated by a salvage mentality, that is, a belief that the culture was dying out. But rather they were collected as signs of a thriving and dynamic culture. They were valued for their significant spiritual, artistic and ceremonial qualities. Notably there are no human remains as we see in other collections of this period or any secret sacred material not intended by the makers for display. (Explanations from Margot Neale, curator of the exhibition.)

Nicola Mapelli:

I have very vivid memories. For instance the first place I went, with Katherine, was the Tiwi Islands and after some search we found a descendants of those who make the pukamani poles and that was for me a very emotional moment to find that woman and that woman telling me that when she was young she was there sitting near her father while he was carving these poles to be sent to Rome to the pope and that was for me a very wonderful moment in our journey.

Margaret Coffey:

You can see an image of those pukamani on the Vatican Museums website - the link is on Encounter's homepage - at abc.net.au/rn/encounter. The poles are used in funeral ceremonies, and with this gift, the Tiwi Islander who carved them a hundred years ago conveyed to the Pope Tiwi confidence in life forever after death.

And old though they are, in the Vatican Museum the poles look wonderful - just as do the other artefacts on display.

Nicola Mapelli:

... all the things we have from Aboriginal Australia are made from organic material so it is very delicate material to work on and they had special care in treating the decoration with ochre and other kinds of pigments, work done with great patience and great care in such a way to respect them so they didn't add any kind of new chemical or any kind of new substance. They tried as much as possible to respect the object as it was one hundred years ago.

… the pukamani poles have spiritual meaning of the pukamani poles, so they are not just ordinary poles - they are poles that have spiritual for people, so it is very important when they restore these poles there is really respect for the way in which they were made one hundred years ago.

Katherine Aigner:

The two main stars of the show are the pukamani poles and the wandjina song cycle.

So the journey started at Bathurst Island where we were trying to retrace the steps of the pukamani poles, trying to find the artists who made these objects a hundred years ago and reconnect with the descendants.

... we took images of the pukamani poles. Pukamani poles are unique to the individuals who made them so community members were able to identify the designs of their ancestors and fathers and uncles. The pukamani poles are also seen today in the cemetery at Bathurst Island; this is still a living culture that you can see today.

[On Bathurst Island]: this is Fr Peter Huan and the indigenous deacon Peter Brogan who remembered John Paul 11 when he said bring your culture into the Church. And that is exactly what they have done on the Tiwi Islands - this is the representative of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost which is painted over the altar piece in Bathurst Island Church in the Tiwi style.

And the pukamani poles holding up the altar piece in Melville Island, in the church. The stand for the bible showing the pukamani designs and also the Tiwi fabric designs in the background behind Mary. So there has been a long association of cross-cultural influence.

And after a long search Fr Mapelli was very happy to find a descendent of the artist of the pukamani poles and this is with Sr Barbara on Melville Island and there's the descendant, Lici Brack, who is the daughter.

http://www.tiwiart.com/artists/item/12 ">Pedro Wonaeamirri who is an accomplished artist today and he spoke a lot about the meaning of the pukamani poles and he was also
concerned that the pukamani poles were so far from home... 'The poles are now in the Vatican Museum I think to show that we Tiwi people we are the most lovely people ...'