It was a time where patriarchy ruled and sectarianism between the Catholic and Protestant churches was rife. A young Irish girl would turn these ways of thinking on their heads, when as a lapsed nun, she would take the local bishop to court, and renounce her Catholic faith.
Bridget Partridge was born on 21 October 1890 at Newbridge, Kildare in Ireland. She was the daughter of Edward Partridge, corporal in the Royal Engineers, and his wife Anne (née Cardiff). Her father was English and a Protestant but her mother was an Irish Catholic.
At 14 Bridget felt she had a strong calling to do missionary work, so she entered the Catholic order of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was 18. She sailed for Melbourne on Christmas Day and on 21 February 1909 entered the Presentation Sisters' novitiate and mother house, Mount Erin, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Bridget took her orders on 25 September, 1911 and became known as Sister Mary Ligouri. She became a teacher, which was the chief work of the order, but after a number of years, it became obvious she was not suited to religious and teaching life. And so it was on 24th July, 1920 Bridget left the convent and made her way to the home of a neighbour.
Sketch of Bridget Parsons during her court case.
When she returned to the convent, a doctor diagnosed her as being in need of rest. When she was offered a sedative, Bridget refused it, believing it was poison and she escaped the confines of the convent in only her nightgown and no shoes.
Bridget stayed with Protestant friends and wrote to Bishop Joseph Dwyer, bishop of Wagga Wagga to confirm her wish to withdraw from the order. Rather than accepting her withdrawal the bishop put a warrant out for her arrest on the grounds of insanity. She was arrested and appeared in the Lunacy Court on 9 August but released.
Bridget released a statutory declaration of the events of the night she ran away from the convent and said little that was positive of her old way of life:
"I am now resolved never again to submit to the care of those who, professing religion and Christian charity, practice it so sparingly."
Mrs and Rev Touchell who took Bridget in and she stayed with them for the rest of her life. Photo: Trove
And with that, Bridget's next step was to sue Bishop Dwyer for 5000 pounds for wrongful arrest and mistreatment. It was a case that grabbed public attention and the courtroom was crowded for the ten days the case ran. After much evidence, the jury of four found for the bishop, but the drama in Bridget's life didn't end there.
Only a couple of months after the court case, Bridget was sensationally kidnapped after attending a Congregational home mission festival at the Sydney Town Hall. Bridget was in the company of the people she was staying with, Reverend and Mrs Touchell. They were walking slowly near a street corner when 20 men emerged. Three of them raced up and grabbed Bridget, dragging her to a car nearby.
Bridget's final resting place at Rookwood Cemetery. Photo Janie Barrett
The event happened so quickly no one could save Bridget in time. The police were informed and details given. Bridget was returned the next day and it was discovered one of her kidnappers was her own brother. She quickly denounced her religion and her brother.
Bridget continued to live with the Touchells until the reverend passed away in 1954. Mrs Touchell died in 1963 in Rydalmere Mental Hospital. Bridget also had been admitted and died in the same institution in 1966. She is buried in Rookwood cemetery.
Postscript: The great-niece of Bridget, Maureen McKeown has written a book The Extraordinary case of Sister Ligouri which is soon to become a film.
Zita Denholm, 'Partridge, Bridget (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/partridge-bridget-7968/text13875, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 July 2021.
'Miss Bridget Partridge makes statutory declaration', Barrier Miner, Friday, 3 September, 1920, Page 1
'Ex-nun abducted', The South-Western News, Friday 28 October, 1921, Page 1