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Derelict orphanage turned into place that serves vulnerable children

The old St Joseph’s Girls Orphanage in Goulburn is being turned into a community hub

On the outskirts of Goulburn, in country NSW, an ordinary couple are hard at work turning the old St Joseph’s Girls Orphanage into a community hub, complete with café and accommodation for vulnerable women and children.

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Ten years ago, as Maggie and Darryl Patterson sat on the deck of their home on the NSW south coast, sipping green tea and enjoying the view of the beach, they wondered, “is this it?” That moment started them on a decade-long journey to buy the derelict Goulburn Orphanage and turn it into something that could bring goodness to the community.

“When we did it was overgrown and vandalised, but we fell in love with it and knew immediately this was the place.” – Maggie Patterson

“We were looking for a building that had the capacity to accommodate people but also had the capacity to serve the community. We didn’t really know what we were looking for, to be honest, but we knew that when we found it something would click,” says Maggie.

“We looked for a number of years, never quite feeling that it was the right thing. But a real estate agent told us about an abandoned orphanage that wasn’t on the market at the time, and we thought, ‘let’s have a look’. When we did it was overgrown and vandalised, but we fell in love with it and knew immediately this was the place.”

“She said, ‘whatever happens to me, I’d love if we can continue with the dream of doing St Joseph’s orphanage’.” – Maggie Patterson

After buying the property, the Pattersons took a family holiday overseas before diving into the mammoth task of renovating an orphanage.

But two weeks into their holiday, while in Scotland, their teenage middle child Isla became very unwell and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (a condition in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and enlarged).

“For two months she was in ICU in Glasgow, and she passed away and the end of the two months. During that time she kept speaking of St Joseph’s and she was reading Shane Claiborne’s book called Ordinary Radicals and she said, ‘whatever happens to me, I’d love if we can continue with the dream of doing St Joseph’s orphanage’. So Darryl and Isla spat on their hands and high-fived and had a little contract that they would go ahead and do it no matter what,” Maggie recalls.

“We feel there’s a synergy with using a site such as this to be able to serve children who are vulnerable to exploitation overseas.” – Maggie Patterson

When they returned to Australia, Maggie says, they very nearly gave up on the dream of St Joseph’s, saying, “we didn’t really think we’d be able to pursue it – it was so daunting.”

But they pushed on. In the four years since they began work on the orphanage, Darryl has removed 300 tonnes of rubbish from the site, fixed more than 300 windows, and a multitude of other things. At present, the café, chapel and back rooms have been completed, while the accommodation for vulnerable women and children, and the rooms upstairs are still works in progress.

The Pattersons have received offers of help from various organisations, churches and community groups, as well as individual members of the community.

A man named Dennis randomly appeared at the gate one day a few years back. He said, “I don’t know if you need any help, but I feel that God has asked me to come here today to offer help.”

Darryl said, “Well, we always need help here.”
“Well, what is it that you’re looking for?” asked Dennis.
“I’m looking for an electrician today,” replied Darryl.
“I’m an electrician,” offered Dennis. Since then, Dennis has rewired the whole building.

“If we can be authentic in the way we live and serve the community then people will catch a glimpse of heaven through that.” – Maggie Patterson

“We have lots of plans but at the same time this building has its own life as it progresses through the renovations,” says Maggie.

The Café and Roastery (which produces a blend of coffee named Orphan’s Cup) is a project that seeks to benefit vulnerable children who are overseas, who might be in fake orphanages or who may be exploited for different reasons.

“We feel there’s a synergy with using a site such as this to be able to serve children who are vulnerable to exploitation overseas, and also for some local projects too,” Maggie reflects. “Part of the beauty of the story of the history of the building is that it was a lightning rod for community goodness in the past and we want to see that occur again through the different projects we engage in here.”

The Pattersons have plans for a community garden, educational spaces and they dream of a time when they might be able to offer spiritual formation retreats.

The land surrounding the orphanage is currently empty, but is slated for residential subdivision. The Orphanage will be the centre of the new community.

“We want to share the love of Jesus in everything we do. It’s not just about words; it’s also about how we live, our posture, and whether we love people or not,” says Maggie.

“If we can be authentic in the way we live and serve the community then people will catch a glimpse of heaven through that.”

Let Darryl take you on a tour of the orphanage in the video below: 

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