Madonna King reflects on Father John Wallis at book launch

Award-winning journalist, author and commentator, Madonna King, spoke of the remarkable relationship that John Wallis had with his mother and how through his letters he spoke of the every day things of his life. Dear Mother, Dear Father – Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927-1949 was officially launched by Madonna King in Banyo, Queensland, on 11 March 2020.

In launching the book, Madonna provided the following reflection:

If only my mother was alive to see me do this: launch Bernadette Wallis’ great book, Dear Mother Dear Father, tonight. It would have trumped interviews I’ve done with a US president, six Australian prime ministers and a host of others. That’s because Catholicism while dear to me, was my mother’s life, and in this process of asking me to launch this tonight, Bernadette has come across others who knew mum, not me, because of the importance of the values and ideals she upheld – and encouraged us – her five children – to do the same.

Dear Mother, Dear Father, of course, includes dozens and dozens of letters home from John Corcoran Wallis; Bernadette Wallis’ uncle, but as a young boy and then a young man. They are beautiful and poignant and take us back to another place and another time. Just before I come back to the book though, let me explain that John Corcoran Wallis entered the seminary at St Columba’s College in Springwood, just near the Blue Mountains at the age of 16. I have a 16-year-old; and wow, even that fact is something worth us pondering on.

Two years later, he went to the seminary at St Patrick’s College in Manly and in 1932, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Hobart. Twelve years later, he founded the Missionary Sisters of Service (MSS) a Catholic religious order and a fitting legacy for a life well lived and a religion that was his guiding force.

I started by mentioning my mother this evening, and what I found so fascinating – uplifting and heart warming and intriguing – was the relationship between John Wallis and his own mother. It shows how important she was to him. He chats, in letters, about his every day life in the same way we hope our children will always do. “We had a special dinner on Sunday in honour of St Columba,” he told his mother in 1927. “We had fowl and bacon and then jellies and drinks. We have a three course meal; we have mutton, vegetables and potatoes, practically the same as at a restaurant.”  His optimism in that letter is infectious, “the same as at a restaurant.”

Bernadette makes the point in one piece of analysis that he values his mother’s intelligence and, John at just 16 and 17, expresses real concern for her at times too. “His youthful hopes are shared and he can discuss anything with her,” Bernadette tells us. And at one point, John tells his mother to “try to get away for a holiday. Perhaps too in that time you might be able to go to some Convent for even one day and there have a while with Our Lord, away from everything else.”

He talks to her about his beliefs, and the weather, family matters and money woes, sport and the hard road towards ordination. His resolution, one September, he told his mother was to “study harder”. I found almost comforting his ability – at that age – to share his secrets and his goals and his vulnerabilities so openly with his mother – and it really is testament to their relationship.

And he talks to her about the mundane too; those every day things like his schedule. Rising at 10 to 6. Prayers at 6.30. Mass at 7. Breakfast at 8.15. “Before breakfast we sweep out our rooms and get our books ready for study. After breakfast we have about 20 minutes for a walk and then the first lecture of the day begins at 9.” We learn there’s more lectures and study up until 7.40pm. Tea is at 8 and then recreation for one hour. After prayers we go to bed at 9.15pm.” There is so much in that one letter I’d like to lock in for my teenagers…not least the absence of television!

His gratitude shines through. “Goodbye now dearest Mother and may God bless you for your goodness to me,” he says at another time. “I feel very sad at times when I think of all that I have been costing you but then I feel very happy to know you see all in the light of Faith and that I will be able to give you joy on the great day.” His ordination. And while others get carried away, he doesn’t. “All I want is a little quiet – perhaps you and I will manage a quiet walk on the evening of the grand day.” What a beautiful thing for a son to tell his mum.

His insight is on display many times, including in a letter to his mother six years after he left to study for the seminary. “I seem to have gone through a lot in that time and still I seem to be so much a boy in many things. It is a strange feeling that one is looked up to and trusted by all the old and young. They all come to ask advice and guidance and you know how poor a reed they are leaning on. Were it not that I feel there must be special graces with the priesthood, I should be afraid that God uses poor instruments to do His own good work…”

And he goes on to show marvellous insight again here. “One thing I do find the need of here is the assistance of another in my own worries. We are teaching people, guiding them and so on and yet we so often need guidance ourselves.” And this, at a later time: “I feel so weak and so much a boy still. It surprises me at times the people trust me.”

Dear Mother Dear Father also provides a delightful look at history and some of the debates that still remain relevant decades later. “We had Parliamentary Debate last night,” he tells his mother in letter 14. “…the question being Should Capital Punishment Be Abolished.

But Dear Mother Dear Father also highlights who John Corcoran Wallis was, and what drove him to create such a wonderful legacy for the Catholic Church. We grow up with him. We see, at 17, his language embrace a religious tone; he mentions the guardian angel, the feast days of the month, the high altar. Later we learn that of Assumption Day he says, “This is the day which I love…it is on this day that each one tries to offer Our Lady 1000 Hail Mary’s – 20 rosaries – 100 decades!”

Father John Corcoran Wallis

We learn he has a wry sense of humour, and an ability sometimes to see things – in people and the environment – that others don’t. We learn that he loves books and the value of sacrifice. “I wish and pray that my life may be one big sacrifice made from the small and rival sacrifices of everyday life. Sacrifice for love is true happiness.” This is a young man, almost 100 years ago. And we see him mature – “The right intention was there and God sees the spirit rather than the actual deed.” He had this innate sense of what is right – a perspective – and I’m not sure how to explain it – but at one point he says, “Let us hope and pray that the priests of Australia will in the future have the interest of the people at heart.”

And at another time: “I often think we do not realise here what trials and difficulties people are having outside in the world.” That insight, and it’s constant, is a treasure. “I love these poor people,” he says in another letter. “They are Our Lord’s own and I only wish I could do more for them.”  And this, in letter 55 to his mother: One of the chief dangers of a priest is that he fixes all his attention on the work, forgetting the motive for whom he works.”

Reading Dear Mother Dear Father you can’t help like John Corcoran Wallis. And sensing the type of person he was: thoughtful and considered, with a special gift of insight beyond his years. It’s hard to imagine a 16 year old and 17 year old writing some of these letters to their mother, and that itself is a piece of gold here. The language. Penning his vulnerabilities and hopes and dreams.

Oh and his focus on the weather. “I am writing this letter in the bush,’’ he says just after his 17th birthday. “It is beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky.’’

In a world of Twitter and Facebook, Tic Tock and Instagram, this commentary, penned in letters, is just beautiful on so many levels. But what struck me, as a mother of two teen girls finding their way through adolescence, was that bond he shared with his mother. We don’t see her letters, but we can almost feel her guiding hand, and her pride and the sacrifice she made as a mother, that her son would find the right path. Of course there are letters to others, including his father, but it was the relationship with his mother that stood out to me.

Bernadette says in the book’s introduction that she hopes, by publishing these letters as a book, it might be a resource – or pave the way for any future research that might be done in relation to John’s other writings. But it does so, so much more than that. It takes us back, and gives us a window seat in history. It tells a wonderful tale of a young man on a physical and spiritual journey. It also illustrates the warm and unique relationship between mother and son. And provides the story behind the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service. It’s a legacy, as well as a great read; and I want to congratulate Bernadette because I’ve written a few books and it’s harder than giving birth. Congratulations Bernadette.

It is my pleasure tonight to launch Dear Mother, Dear Father. – Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927-1949.

Dear Mother Dear Father book launched in Melbourne

“History … is a gift from which to understand and attempt to make sense of our past and our present, often to make resolutions or decisions, even unconsciously, moving into a hope-filled future.”  This is an excerpt from the latest book by Bernadette Wallis MSS, Dear Mother Dear Father: Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927-1949, which was launched in Melbourne last night.

Professor Gabrielle McMullen AM officially launched the book, which is a collection of 100 letters written by Fr John Wallis (founder of the Missionary Sisters of Service) at Catholic Theological College in East Melbourne. The celebration took place among a gathering of friends, Missionary Sisters of Services and colleagues.

“It is an honour to have been invited to launch Dear Mother Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927-1949,” stated Prof. McMullen. “In so doing, I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to Bernadette Wallis, whose vision, scholarship and dedication have come to fruition in this fine volume.

“The publication of this book was timely,” she said. “In the first instance, 2019 marked 75 years of the Missionary Sisters of Service, the congregation founded by Fr John Wallis, which has become his most significant legacy to the Australian Church. The publication of these unique letters was a fitting addition to the 75-year anniversary celebrations.

DSC_5509“Secondly, the Missionary Sisters of Service have recently established Highways and Byways: A Community of Service, a new expression of their charism to take the MSS legacy purposefully into the future. It is critical that those who animate the Highways and Byways mission are able to get to know the man who envisioned this charism. This book makes a critical contribution in this regard, to getting to know John Wallis.

“This volume makes available letters of Fr John Wallis covering a period of two decades of his younger life. They offer a window into another era of the Australian Church and, in particular, into a man who would make a unique contribution through the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service. The publication of letters has particular value ― thus, St John Henry Newman wrote to his sister in 1863:

… the true life of a man is in his letters … Not only for the interest of a biography, but for arriving at the inside of things, the publication of letters is the true method. Biographers varnish, they assign motives, they conjecture feeling … but contemporary letters are facts [Newman to his Sister, Mrs John Mozley, 18 May 1863].

In ten chapters, Dear Mother Dear Father assembles 100 letters into sections marking significant stages of John Wallis’ life up to his late thirties, including entering St Columba’s Seminary in Springwood at 16 years of age; progressing to St Patrick’s Seminary in Manly; his Ordination year; his early years of ministry in Tasmania; testing his vocation as a Columban missionary; returning to Tasmania, and founding the Missionary Sisters of Service (or the Home Missionary Sisters of Our Lady as they were called initially).

DSC_5546Author Bernadette Wallis provides a brief introduction to each of the 10 chapters as well as setting both the family and historical context prior to reproducing each letter. In the book she writes: “My hope was to find [in each letter] a gem or gems that energised the life of the young” John Wallis [p. xiv].

At the conclusion to each chapter, a pertinent Church figure has written a reflection on the preceding letters. In his foreword to Dear Mother Dear Father, Professor Frank Brennan SJ AO describes these reflections as “a brilliant flourish” on Bernadette’s part. The volume includes significant reflections by Austin Cooper OMI, Edmund Campion, Adrian Doyle, David Ranson and Corrie van den Bosch, amongst others.

Prof. McMullen went on to explain: “On another lighter note, Dear Mother Dear Father might have been given the ‘sticky’ title of the Mystery of the Westward Ho! Assorted Toffees Treasure Chest. The letters, stored in a decorative tin of this description, came to light in 2014 in the Missionary Sisters of Service archives in Hobart.

“The correspondence had been placed there in 1966 by John Wallis’ brother, Fr Brian Wallis, who had requested that the letters be kept secret until after his brother’s death. As his mother’s executor, had he gathered up the letters and placed them in the Westward Ho! Assorted Toffees tin or had Emma, John and Brian’s mother, already chosen this secure storage to preserve them, prior to her death in 1955?

“We can be grateful to Emma, Brian and Carmel Hall MSS, the Sisters’ archivist, that they were preserved. We can be especially grateful to Bernadette Wallis, Fr John and Fr Brian’s niece, that they have now been professionally published. Like Fr John himself, this book is a special gift to the Australian Church.


“I am confident that this new work will enrich its readers and inspire those seeking to take forward ‘on the highways and byways’ the spirit of John Wallis and the charism of the Missionary Sisters of Service.”

Bernadette Wallis MSS provided closing remarks, expressing her deep gratitude to all who were involved in the making of the book, especially to the publisher, Coventry Press. Thanks were also extended to Kevin Lenehan, Master of Catholic Theological College, for hosting the launch.

The book will be launched in Toowoomba and Brisbane in the coming week. Find out more, here.


Purchase the book, here (RRP: $44.95).

Launch of Dear Mother Dear Father in Yea, Victoria

Yea held a special place in the heart of the young visionary and pastoral priest, John Corcoran Wallis, who was born at the old Yea hospital and baptised in the Yea Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1910. He grew up in Homewood, 10 kilometres from Yea and attended the local Homewood State school and later Sacred Heart School, the year it opened in 1923.

The local Library at Yea was the location for a special book launch of Dear Mother, Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927 – 1949 by Bernadette Wallis MSS on Tuesday 11th February, with more than 30 guests attending to commemorate the young man who founded the Missionary Sisters of Service in Tasmania in 1944. He became an influential and inspiring priest, who touched the hearts of many people along the way.

John left home at 16 to enter the seminary and was ordained in Kilmore for the Hobart Diocese, Tasmania, at age 22.  His parents were Emma Corcoran and Abraham Wallis; Emma’s family having long roots in the local area. Her grandparents were Irish pioneers Thomas and Eliza McAsey who settled in the district in 1857, Thomas being the first lamplighter in Yea.

Having just turned 23, John was sent “on mission” to Bruny Island, a remote island off the south east coast of Tasmania, to visit isolated Catholic families. He travelled by ferry, bicycle, on a horse and by foot, often through thick bush and rugged terrain. While there, he met a mother with four small children, Mrs Kit Hawkins, who asked the fledgling priest, “Father, why can’t we have sisters to teach our children? Doesn’t anyone care about us people in the bush?” It was eleven years later that he founded the Missionary Sisters of Service, an Australian congregation of Catholic women.

Today there are 26 Missionary Sisters of Service still living in Australia – mainly in Melbourne, Toowoomba and Hobart. They celebrated their 75-year anniversary throughout 2019. As part of these celebrations, Bernadette Wallis MSS, the niece of Fr John Wallis had her book published by Coventry Press to commemorate the legacy of her uncle.

Dear Mother, Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927 – 1949 features 100 letters written by John Wallis during his seminary years, priesthood and in the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service. The letters provide a unique snapshot into the man and the era, with each chapter also including a special commentary by eminent Australians.

When commenting on the book to Bernadette, Brenda Niall, Australian Biographer, Literary Critic and Journalist, said, “I congratulate you on bringing this engaging and humble man to life. Your book is a wonderful time capsule. I am sure that there are few, if any collections like this that have survived to give understanding of the times and the individuals who worked within them.”

Bernadette Wallis said: “John loved the land and the bush, and his rural upbringing influenced his interest in country people and their issues. Also having had three siblings who were profoundly Deaf, John had a special interest in people who lived on the edge of society. Inclusiveness was important to him.”

Bernadette added: “John died in 2001 aged 91. He would be amazed at how the Missionary Sisters of Service have developed their legacy, Highways & Byways – a Community of Service, their mission organisation that aims to strengthen communities, supporting people experiencing hardship and disadvantage especially in rural Australia.”

The book was officially launched by local Yea man and friend of the Wallis family, Mr Frank Hargrave AO, who shared some of his favourite excerpts from various letters in the book. Prof. Gabrielle McMullen AM also provided some commentary at the launch.

Following the book launch, Bernadette took a group of visitors on ‘The John Wallis Heritage Trail’, which allowed them to see significant historical sites related to John Wallis.

These included the site of the old Yea hospital and Sacred Heart Church to view the Baptismal register. They drove along the road where John rode his horse to the Homewood State primary school and visited Switzerland Road to see where John’s mother, Emma Corcoran, grew up, and where the original ancestors settled in Yea. The final destination was a visit to Pioneer Cemetery where Abraham and Emma Wallis are buried, as well as earlier family members.

Further book launches of Dear Mother Dear Father will take place in Melbourne (5 March), Toowoomba (8 March) and Brisbane (11 March).

PLEASE NOTE: The Sydney launch scheduled for 19th  March HAS BEEN POSTPONED.

Click here to find out all the details or phone (03) 9873 5520 or email

Words and photos by Fiona Basile

2020 book launches for Dear Mother, Dear Father

We are excited to announce that Dear Mother, Dear Father: Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927 – 1949, by Bernadette Wallis MSS, will be launched in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Toowoomba and Yea, in country Victoria, in 2020.

The 100 letters written by John Wallis during his seminary years, priesthood and in the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service provide a unique snapshot into the man and the era. Each chapter also includes commentary by an eminent Australian.


Yea Launch: Tuesday 11 February 2020, 10:00am at Yea Library, 15 The Semi Circle, Yea, Victoria. RSVP by 7 Friday February on (03) 9873 5520 or email the Missionary Sisters of Service

Melbourne Launch: Thursday 5 March 2020, 5:30pm at Catholic Theological College, East Melbourne, Victoria. To be launched by Professor Gabrielle McMullen with response from author Bernadette Wallis MSS. RSVP by Thursday 27 February 2020 on (03) 9873 5520 or email the Missionary Sisters of Service. Download Melbourne launch flyer, here.

Toowoomba Launch: Sunday 8 March 2020, 2pm at St Therese’s Church, Cnr Campbell and Curzon Streets, Toowoomba, Queensland. To be launched by Bishop Emeritus Bill Morris DD prior to the John Wallis Memorial Lecture given by Lindy Chamberlain. RSVP by Friday 28 February 2020 on (03) 9873 5520 or email the Missionary Sisters of Service. Download Toowoomba launch flyer, here.

Brisbane Launch: Wednesday 11 March 2020,  7.30pm at Holy Spirit Seminary, 487 Earnshaw Road, Banyo, Queensland. RSVP by Monday 2 March 2020 on (03) 9873 5520 or email the Missionary Sisters of Service. Download Brisbane launch flyer, here.

SYDNEY LAUNCH HAS BEEN POSTPONED: It’s no longer on Thursday 19 March, 5.30pm at Catholic Institute of Sydney (due to Corona Virus).

Enquiries: Call (03) 9873 5520 or 0411 058 046, or email

Download an order form to purchase the book here.

We support Global Action For Climate Change!

Our earth is crying out! Today students from around the world are calling on us to join them on the streets to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.

Millions of adults will walk out of their workplaces and homes to support solutions to the most important crisis facing our world.
We are proud to walk with young people striving to live in a healthy, stable climate.

Photo courtesy of Niki Na Meadhra

Dear Mother Dear Father

Dear Mother Dear Father

Letters Home from John Corcoran Wallis 1927-1949

Edited and compiled by Bernadette T Wallis

We are excited that this new book, published by Coventry Press, is now available (see Melbourne launch photos below).   In it, ‘Bernadette Wallis has provided the contemporary reader with a lovingly familiar insight into the development and vision of one of Australia’s great pioneer priests…’ (Fr Frank Brennan SJ).
Born in Victoria, Fr John Wallis (1910-2001), Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Hobart, founded the  Australian Religious Order, the Missionary Sisters of Service, in Tasmania, in 1944. The Sisters were to be available to go into the highways and byways; and flexible to meet the pastoral needs of isolated communities throughout Australia.

This series of letters to John’s parents and family gives us a rare and precious insight into his life as a seminarian and young priest. They also reflect the growing development of his piety and spirituality, the seeds that would develop into his deep concern for people, especially the poor and the  marginalised in rural and outback areas of Australia, and for ways to meet their pastoral and social needs.

The letters have been arranged in ten chapters, with a general introduction about that period in John’s life. Each letter itself has a commentary that contextualises the letter, providing biographical and other details that make the entire series come to life, tracing his experiences, development, misgivings and plans. They anticipate his enthusiasm for the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council and played such a part in his priestly ministry.

The series of letters in each chapter close with insightful reflections from eminent Australians who consider John’s character and spiritual growth as well as applying his insights into contemporary Church life in Australia.

Bernadette Therese Wallis MSS, was born in Melbourne. She joined the Missionary Sisters of Service in 1965 and worked pastorally in rural and outback parish settings of Tasmania and New South Wales before commencing ministry with the Catholic Deaf organisation in Victoria.

Dear Mother Dear Father is available from the Missionary Sisters of Service, Coventry Press, Garratt Publishing and other bookshops. Download the order form here for Dear Mother Dear Father.


Bernadette is the author of The Silent Book:  A Deaf Family and the Disappearing Australian-Irish Sign Language, the engrossing story, both deeply personal and historical, of the disappearing Australian-Irish sign language told through the experience of Bernadette’s own Deaf family. The story is embedded in the Australian landscape and its Aboriginal past. In writing this multi-layered story, Bernadette invites the reader into the vibrantly alert and alive silent world of her Deaf parents.  Click here for The Silent Book order form.

Women of Faith Leading the Way – with Geraldine Doogue

 We are delighted to announce:

The 2019 John Wallis Memorial Lecture in Melbourne

Date: Tuesday 13th August 2019

Venue: The Madeleine Centre, Genazzano FCJ College,

301 Cotham Road Kew

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 12.07.21 pm

2019 marks the 75th year of the Missionary Sisters of Service. Renowned Australian journalist and broadcaster Geraldine Doogue, in conversation with Stancea Vichie, Congregational Leader of the Missionary Sisters of Service, and Zuleyha Keskin, Centre of Islamic Studies and Civilization, will explore the unique and enduring leadership and contribution by women of faith over the last 75 years – and where to from here?

We’d love to see you there!



OR PHONE 03 9873 5520