A number of requests for Australian foundations had been made to the Redemptorists before they came to these shores in 1882. In 1881, Bishop James Murray of Maitland finally had a breakthrough. It was the English Redemptorists who heard of his request and answered his call.
With very little knowledge of where they were headed, the English superiors selected a small team of Redemptorist pioneers who would form the first Australian community. In January, 1882, these pioneers were given a farewell dinner before they set sail for Australia. Their long voyage was to be a journey of discovery, as would be the years following in Australia and New Zealand.
The leader of the group was Fr Edmund Vaughan, C.Ss.R. He was born in 1827 and was now 53 years of age. On their arrival in Sydney, the then Archbishop was Fr Vaughan’s nephew, the Benedictine, Roger Bede Vaughan, who welcomed them with largesse. On board with Fr Vaughan were two Irishmen, Fr Thomas O’Farrell and Fr James Hegarty, who would eventually take the Redemptorists to the Philippines.
The other priest in the group was Fr Henry Halson who had been a miner on the Victorian goldfields. He was received into the Church in Ballarat and then studied for the priesthood in Canada, was ordained in Rome, and a year later joined the Redemptorists in England. This was the second time he would set sail for Australia.
Joining the four priests were two Redemptorist brothers from Ireland, Br Laurence Watters, who spent most of his life in Australia and died in New Zealand, and Br Daniel Gleeson, whose nephew, Edmund Gleeson, would later become a Redemptorist and go on to be the Bishop of Maitland, Australia.
All felt the pain in parting, the pain of leaving home and country, but also that of leaving their brother Redemptorists.
There was a surprise at their farewell dinner. A distinguished visitor, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, arrived with good wishes. Encouraged by his blessing, the little group on the following day boarded the Orient liner Sorata bound for Australia, bringing with them a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, blessed in Rome by Pope Leo XIII.
Eight weeks later, at 10.00 am, March 31, 1882, the Sorata sailed through Sydney Heads. The work of the Redemptorists in Australia was about to begin.