Regardless of the religious affiliation of the students, her order accepted no money from the government, remaining open to all and accepting only what tuition parents could afford, at a time when the government still provided funding to religious schools.
MacKillop intended that the order be self-governed and devoted to teaching and charity.
Some Australian priests and bishops were openly hostile both to the degree of autonomy that the Josephites enjoyed and to Mary MacKillop’s rejection of federal funding.
MacKillop expanded the order’s educational and charitable endeavours and attracted new sisters. In 1875 she was appointed superior general of the order.
A young priest, Father Julian Tenison Woods, encouraged her to continue this work, assuring her that educating the poor would be an ideal way to serve God.
In 1866 MacKillop and Woods founded Australia’s first order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
In 1867 MacKillop took vows and became the first mother superior of the sisters. The following year the sisters opened schools in other Australian cities, as well as an orphanage and a refuge for women released from prison.