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

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

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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