The arrival of the first Verbum Dei missionaries in Australia in 1980 marked a significant milestone in the history of Verbum Dei in Sydney. Anita Moranta, Delia Flores and Francisca Also,  were the pioneers who prepared the way for a new foundation of Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity in Sydney. They were warmly received by the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Kensington, where they resided with the sisters for a period.

On December 26, 1980, the first Verbum Dei community was formally established by Magdalena Bennasar, Maureen Blackburn, Vicky Ochoa and Lucia Herrerias. They became a part of the parish of St Therese in Mascot and resided in their first home on Harris St, Mascot. These missionaries soon became involved with the University of New South Wales, where they met Greg Morgan. In 1986, he became the first Australian male vocation of Verbum Dei.

But Jaime Bonet, the founder, called these young women to return to Europe to finish their theological studies. Therefore, from 1986 to 1990, the Verbum Dei Community was temporarily closed in Sydney, Australia.

However, on the 12th of October, 1990, Juana Crespi re-opened and re-established the Verbum Dei Community with Consuelo Ariste, and Maria Pineda arrived shortly after.  In the following years, other missionaries arrived but only stayed for a short time. Their first home was at Barker Street, Kingsford, alongside the University of New South Wales, where students regularly visited the chapel to pray. They participated regularly with Mass on campus. The missionaries soon began activities proper of the Verbum Dei Charism and Mission: Schools of the Word with students, young adults, and married couples, Day Encounters, School of Apostles (for those who want to learn to share the Word with others), Christian Formation Groups, Guided Silent Retreats, Life and Love Retreat Weekends, Preparation for the Sacraments, and various other activities. For the Verbum Dei Missionaries, all of these are core activities for our Mission of Evangelisation.

In 1991, fruit of this missionary activity, two young women joined the community and were sent to Spain for their initial formation. As the groups began to grow, a bigger house was needed. With the help of a Verbum Dei disciple, the missionaries moved to Doncaster Ave, Kensington, in 1992. They lived there for several years until their house was ruined by a freak hailstorm that hit the Kingsford/Kensington area. The missionaries had to relocate and search for a new home.

In the meantime, the missionaries were kindly accommodated by the Brigidine Sisters, who encouraged them to pray to St. Joseph. Providentially, in 2000, Fr. Christopher Sheehy, Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Parish, Rosebery, invited the missionaries to reside at 74 Rosebery Ave, Rosebery. It became a suitable place for their ministry because they converted the derelict primary school building into one large chapel on one side and a small dorm for retreatants on the other. The missionaries enjoyed a close relationship with Fr. Chris, who supported their ministry and deeply appreciated the charism, which he felt gave life to the parish. He allowed them to use the parish facilities for their ministry.

The missionaries carried out pastoral care to the parishioners, who were also supportive and collaborated with their ministry.  The missionary activities were integrated easily into the life of the parish, particularly during the Advent and Lenten Season. Whilst giving retreats on the parish grounds, all retreatants would join in the parish liturgies. Every Good Friday, the missionaries would prepare a group from the parish and their prayer groups to re-enact the Stations of the Cross. The retreatants participated in all the liturgies of Holy Week whilst also assisting in the retreat the missionaries were guiding.  The lay members and missionaries of Verbum Dei contributed actively to the life at St Joseph’s parish through the Sunday children’s liturgy, youth ministry, RCIA program, music ministry, and weekly prayer meetings.

As the community expanded with new vocations, the missionaries saw the need to offer their charism and mission outside the Sydney diocese. They met with then Fr Peter Comensoli, the vice-chancellor of Wollongong Diocese. Guided by the Holy Spirit, their interview with the diocese’s Vice-chancellor took a different route, where he enquired if they would be interested in taking on the role of chaplains at the University of Wollongong. After consulting with the Bishop, Maria Pineda took up the appointment as Chaplain to the University of Wollongong.

The chaplaincy opened new doors to meeting new people. International students found in Verbum Dei a community and family away from home. As Verbum Dei, they could live their mission of prayer and giving the Word on campus, offering Schools of the Word. There was a “church” on campus, where weekly Mass, prayer with the Word, and faith formations were offered. The missionaries also offered mission trips to the Philippines, retreat days and weekend retreats, movie nights, bushwalks and picnics. Maria remained in this role for 18 years and always worked in a team with other missionaries throughout that time. In 2018, the missionaries concluded their work as chaplains at UOW.  

Father Chris Sheehy died suddenly in 2012. Fr Greg Morgan, missionary priest of Verbum Dei,  by invitation of the female branch, came to Sydney and became the administrator of St Joseph’s parish Rosebery in 2013.

The missionaries’ lease at St Joseph’s convent finished in 2016. The Archdiocese of Sydney also had plans to build a primary school on St Joseph’s Parish grounds. Therefore, the missionaries decided it was time to leave St Joseph. Father Greg Morgan remained at St. Joseph’s as administrator.

The female branch rented a house in Eastlakes for a year, where they had some connection to St Therese Parish in Mascot.  In 2018, the Sisters of Charity allowed the missionaries to stay in a house they owned at 3 Waratah St Bexley, where the missionaries have been residing until now. The missionaries are grateful to the Sisters for their great generosity.

At Bexley, the missionaries have continued their ministry of prayer and ministry of the word. The COVID crisis and periods of isolation moved them to have their activities online. While they are now carrying out their ministry in person once again, online activities have become an integrated part of their ministry, enabling more people to engage in the spiritual activities they offer.