Vatican II Council launched a large scale review of the Church and its pastoral practice in the modern world, which highlighted the need for in-depth socio-religious and historical research.
Synod on Evangelisation which was hailed as a major follow-up to the Second Vatican Council and which accentuated again the need for research.
Pope Paul VI wrote his influential encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi which further encouraged national and regional bishops' conferences and conferences of major superiors of religious institutes to sponsor research related to the mission of the Church.
The Australian Bishops set up the National Catholic Research Council (NCRC) directed by the sociologist Dr Michael Mason CSSR.
The major superiors of women's institutes in Australia initiated a Research Programme directed by Dr Carmel Leavey op, a sociologist and a Council Member of NCRC.
The above Research Programme was renegotiated on the initiative of Dr Leavey op as the Institute of Religious Studies (IRS) with Dr Rosa MacGinley pbvm, an historian specialising in the history of women's religious congregations, as a foundation member.
Sophie McGrath commenced work on the centenary history of the Sisters of Mercy, Parramatta and in the course of undertaking updating courses at Macquarie University became aware of the work done previously in the field of women's history, which is neglected and lost. She also became aware of the great deal of women's history resource material in various archives or private collections awaiting to be researched, analysed and incorporated into mainstream history. Sophie consulted Rosa MacGinley when she commenced her major research project.
Sophie McGrath graduated PhD her doctoral thesis being "Women Religious in the History of Australia: A case study - the Sisters of Mercy, Parramatta 1888-1988". She felt moved to make the resolve to devote her remaining years, as far as possible, to promoting the cause of women's history generally but particularly within the Church. She saw this as a vital service to the production of better informed mainstream history and consequently theology and spirituality, as well as social and political policies.
Rosa and Sophie met again as part-time Church History teachers at the Catholic Theological Union, Hunters Hill, which with the Columban Mission Institute formed the Union Theological Institute, a member of the ecumenical Sydney College of Divinity. Rosa supported strongly Sophie's position on the importance of women's history.
1980 - 1998
In association with Rosa MacGinley at IRS there developed a network of scholars and associates from around the country linking universities, monasteries, convents and independent scholars, women and men. A history newsletter was circulated among them and conferences organised.
Sophie was invited to give her Women in Christian History course at the then St Paul's Seminary at Kensington, a member of the Sydney College of Divinity. Dr Michael Costigan, Executive Director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice, Development and Peace enrolled to gain some historical background for the forthcoming Bishops' Research Project on the Participation of Women in the Australian Catholic Church.
Sophie thus became very aware of the Bishops' Project and saw the call for submissions in association with it as an opportunity to promote the cause of women's history. She suggested the establishment of a Centre for Research in Women's History in association with the Australian Catholic University, a scholarly institution with an ongoing life of its own. This strategy was designed to prevent the regular loss of women's history and encourage increased and ongoing research in it. Rosa encouraged this move and the submission was prepared and subsequently endorsed by a wide range of supporters ranging from academic historians, both women and men, to women in the parishes.
Dr Anne O'Brien, historian at the University of New South Wales, supported Sophie in making an oral presentation at one of the hearing sessions in Sydney organised by the Management Committee of the Bishops' Committee. Dr Berenice Kerr rsm made a similar presentation at the Brisbane hearings.
Sophie became aware of the work of Early Christian Studies scholar Dr Kim Power and Rosa through her Patristic Scholar friend, Dr Pamela Bright, made contact with her. Kim was enthusiastic about the idea of the Centre and kept up a correspondence with Sophie.
Sophie was invited to write the contextual history paper for the Bishops' Report on the Research Project on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia.
Sophie was invited to the launch of the Bishops' Report published as Woman and Man - One in Christ Jesus. There she met the Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Sheehan, who invited her to make an appointment with him to discuss the proposal for a Centre for Research in Women's History, which he had noted in the published Report.
On the 8th September Sophie met with Professor Sheehan, who approved of the concept of the Centre in principle, emphasising that Centres had to be founded from within the University but funded from outside. He passed Sophie on to Professor Wolfgang Grichting, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) to work on a submission. This she did consulting with Rosa and Kim.
1999 - 2000
By March 2000 Professor Grichting, who was very supportive of the idea of the Centre, was satisfied with the submission which finally took the form of the establishment of a Project for Research in Women's History, Theology and Spirituality as the first step towards the establishment of a Centre. He then requested that what was now called the Central Project Team (CPT, Drs McGrath, MacGinley and Power) demonstrate that there was support for such a Centre within ACU and that the CPT could generate the funds to commence the Project. This was done by April, 2000.
In June Professor Grichting appointed Drs McGrath, MacGinley and Power Research Fellows within the Institute for the Advancement of Research to work on the Project for Research in Women's History, Theology and Spirituality (WHTS) as the first step towards the establishment of a Centre. The understanding was that they would take up their fellowships when they had generated sufficient funds to support their work.
By August through the generous support of a number of religious congregations, mostly women's but some men's, sufficient funds had been generated to support the project in its initial stage. Sister Margaret Cassidy, csb, the then President of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes was very supportive of the Project.
Sister Caroline Ryan rsm, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy, Parramatta, which congregation had responded generously to the appeal for funds, set up a Trust for their administration. Of the original proposal she had said: "Speaking for myself, I believe that if the proposal is accepted and funded by all the relevant parties, its implementation will make a most significant (and long overdue) contribution to the intellectual and spiritual formation of adults in the Australian Church and beyond."
Sister Sonia Wagner sgs, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and strong supporter of the Project declared: "This Project is timely. In particular, it has every possibility of fostering growth in mutual understanding by bringing substance, historical depth and accuracy to the conversation - within Church circles and beyond. I am sure the many respondents to the (bishops') survey will be encouraged to see such a ground-breaking initiative develop."
On 14th September the members of the Central Project Team gathered at Leura for a prayerful, reflective planning week-end prior to their formal commencement of work on the ACU WHTS Research Project.
Early in October Sophie, as the Coordinator of the Project, met with Professor John Coll, who had succeeded Professor Grichting as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research). It was arranged that the CPT would take up their research fellowships and commence to work formally on the Project on their respective campuses on 23 October 2000. This they did and in November produced an Introductory Newsletter to bring together the network of scholars and associates, established in connection with IRS, and those who had expressed support for the Project within ACU. It was indeed an historic occasion!
2001 - 2002
During this time the CPT worked hard at achieving their stated objectives and consequently contributed towards the promotion of ACU's mission and research activities. This included : multi-discipline research; attendance at conferences, seminars etc and presentation of papers (both within and without the University; both scholarly and popular); organisation of colloquia; developing lines of communication both within and without the Univerisity; producing a biannual newsletter; supervision of higher degree students and correction of theses; publication of papers.
In March 2003 the ACU WHTS Research Project was upgraded to Centre status within the Institute for the Advancement of Research. It was called the Golding Centre to honour Annie Golding and her two sisters, Kate (Mrs Dwyer) and Belle - distinguished Australian Catholic activists of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who contributed significantly to the social and political life of the wider community.