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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rowland, Caroline Ann (1852–1921)

by Mary Kneipp

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Caroline Ann Rowland (1852-1921), Ursuline nun, was born on 31 December 1852 at Kentish Town, London, daughter of George Rowland, railway clerk, and his wife Caroline Agnes, née Reeves. Her proficiency in languages indicates that her education was unusually broad for a girl in the mid-nineteenth century. She went to the Hanoverian town of Duderstadt about 1870 and taught in a day and boarding school for girls run by the Ursuline Sisters. She entered the Order, and made profession in October 1873, taking the religious name Mary Cordula.

By this date Hanover had been absorbed into the unified German Empire. In June 1877 the Falk laws dissolving or expelling teaching religious orders were invoked against the Ursuline sisters of Duderstadt, who were ordered to leave their convent by 1 October. Sister Cordula and a German sister left immediately for England, arriving at Dover on 24 June, and eventually found a suitable house for the community at Greenwich. Here they established a school for girls which still flourishes under the Ursulines.

Twelve sisters, including Sister Cordula, accepted an invitation from Bishop Elzear Torreggiani to come to the vast diocese of Armidale in northern New South Wales. They arrived in Sydney on 31 August 1882 and at Armidale on 12 September. Here they established a day and boarding school for girls which grew rapidly: St Ursula's College, Armidale, drew its students from all over New South Wales and Queensland and even from Victoria. They also took responsibility for the parochial primary school which had existed under lay administration since the 1850s.

Adapting to teaching various subjects to the senior classes until just before her death in an environment very different from both Germany and England, Sister Cordula was also energetic and efficient, with unusually high administrative abilities, and was a competent businesswoman. She held various offices in the religious community: treasurer several times after 1885, superior (1898-1904 and 1905-11) and mistress general of the boarding school (1911-19). She played a major role in establishing and developing the school, and between 1900 and 1907 was responsible for an extensive building programme to enlarge the college and to modernize its facilities. She recognized the necessity for its students to sit for the public university entrance examination, which they did from 1893, and in 1912 she applied under the new Bursary Endowment Act to have St Ursula's registered.

An accomplished artist, Sister Cordula established the reputation of the Ursulines as painters of illuminated addresses for presentation to local and visiting dignitaries. She also painted religious pictures which are still in the possession of the Ursuline sisters in Armidale.

The only Englishwoman in a community of German nuns, Sister Cordula had the difficult task of acting as a bridge in the community. It was she who helped to merge the old German culture stemming from centuries of European history and experience, and the new emergent culture of a new land, with its peculiarly Australian strands of nationalism, freedom and anti-authoritarianism. She was surprisingly broad-minded and her friendly manner endeared her to the members of her own religious community as well as to the wider local community.

Sister Cordula died on 11 March 1921 in St Margaret's Hospital, Sydney, and was buried at Armidale. A new wing of the convent and college buildings opened in 1922 was named in memory of her.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Kneipp, This Land of Promise (Armidale, NSW, 1982)
  • Armidale Express, 15 Mar 1921
  • Archives, Ursuline Convent, Armidale, New South Wales
  • private information.

Citation details

Mary Kneipp, 'Rowland, Caroline Ann (1852–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cordula, Sister Mary

31 December 1852
London, Middlesex, England


11 March 1921
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence