In 1935, Bishop Coleman blessed a new project: RELIGION BY LETTER. This was a program which enrolled children of the outlying districts, especially those who would be unable to attend a Catholic School, and prepared them for the sacraments. The program was based on Archbishop Sheehan’s Primer of Religion, “Religion by Letter” and “A Child’s Book of Religion”.The work of organising, distributing and correcting the lessons was entrusted to the Ursulines. By 1953 the total number of students who had been enrolled was 4227. The number of children who received this instruction by post in 1953 alone was 465. The program provided instruction not only for children, but incidentally, for their parents as well. This program continued until the 1960s when road transport became more accessible and schools were more available to students.
Catholic Schools OfficeSince 1989 an Ursuline sister has contributed assistance to the Catholic Schools Office in the administration of its schools.
From the Brothers’ ArchivesThe records indicate that the following Brothers’ ministered at Armidale in the years 1889 till the end of 1896. Brother Louis Carroll 1889 Brother Andrew Dwyer 1892 (from July) Brother Xavier Dwyer 1893/4 Brother Ligouri Higgins 1889 (to September) Brother Thomas Hunt 1893/5 Brother Louis Hynes 1890 Brother John Lee 1893 Brother James Long 1891/2 Brother Joseph McDonnell 1895 Brother Austin McGrath 1894/5 Brother Xavier O’Gorman 1890 Brother Ignatius Price 1895/6 Brother Ambrose Ryan 1889 (died 19 February, 1889) Brother Andrew Ryan 1891 Brother Eugene Ryan 1889/93 Brother Laurence Ryan 1890/92/94 1889 Eugene Ryan, Louis Carroll, Ligouri Higgins, Ambrose Ryan 1890 Eugene Ryan, Louis Hynes, Xavier O’Gorman, Laurence Ryan 1891 Eugene Ryan, James Long, Andrew Ryan 1892 Eugene Ryan, Andrew Dwyer, James Long, Laurence Ryan 1893 Eugene Ryan, Xavier Dwyer, Thomas Hunt, John Lee 1894 Xavier Dwyer, Thomas Hunt, Austin McGrath, Laurence Ryan 1895 Ignatius Price, Thomas Hunt, James McDonnell, Austin McGrath 1896 Ignatius Price
Freemans Journal, January 12, 1889, p 18
ST PATRICK’S COLLEGE, ARMIDALEWe stated some little time back (says the Armidale CHRONICLE) that it was proposed to establish in Armidale a college for the education of youths, under the care of the Brothers of St Patrick. All arrangements are now complete; the Brothers have arrived, and the college will be opened on 21st instant. St Patrick’s College has been founded for the purpose of placing within reach of the Catholic youth throughout the Diocese of Armidale a first-class English and classical education based on a sound religious training. While no pains will be spared in imparting a thoroughly sound English, classical, and religious education, particular attention will be devoted to training the pupils in those branches (including the most improved system of book-keeping) which have been found most useful in commercial pursuits. One of the chief aims of the course of instruction will be to give a good knowledge of the English language. The college is situated about half a mile from Armidale, on the crest of hill overlooking town – one of the prettiest and healthiest sites that could be desired; the dormitories are roomy and well-ventilated; the recreation grounds are extensive, comprising about fifteen acres.
Freemans Journal, April 27, 1889, p 18
CATHOLIC BUILDINGS IN ARMIDALE (from our Correspondent)Armidale has been very appropriately designated the Cathedral City if the North; for a visitor is at once struck by the splendid buildings of the different denominations devoted to divine worship. The two cathedrals (Catholic and Protestant) and the Presbyterian Church are the most noticeable. The Catholic Church property in this northern city is one of which the Bishop (Dr Torreggiani) and his devoted people may justly feel proud, and which is a proof of the labours of the holy pastor and of his flock. The property consists of almost a whole block of land in the very centre of the town, on which are erected the Cathedral, Bishop’s house, convent, and parochial schools; while on the outskirts of the town on a large area of ground (about 2 acres) is built St Patrick’s College. The Cathedral is of red brick and built on an eminence in the centre of a neat garden, which under the care of Brother Francis is ever blooming. The Bishop’s house in the rear of the Cathedral is a spacious building of two stories. The Ursuline Convent is a building of two stories also, surrounded with large recreation grounds. At the end of the convent is a nice little oratory beautifully finished off in the interior with paintings, the work of the Sisters. A large three-storied building is in course of erection, costing about 4000 pounds, containing refectory, dormitories, music-ball, and numerous other compartments. The present building occupied as a school is a wooden structure, in which there are about sixty pupils reaping the advantages of a first-class convent education from the labours of the pious Sisters. The parochial school is divided into the boys’ department, which is under the control of the Patrician Brothers, and the girls’ department, which is conducted by the Nuns. In these schools some hundred children are receiving a good Catholic education, and the seed of the faith is being imparted to them whereby their parents have been able to do so much for the furtherance of religion and by which they themselves maybe come their worthy successors. St Patrick’s College, under the conductorship of the Patrician Brothers, is situated on the edge of the township. The old presbytery has been converted into a residence for the Brothers, and a wing of the future college has been erected. The very satisfactory number of 26 boys is under the care of the Brothers. The number of boarders so far, however, are few, owing perhaps to the college not being very well known. Still as time moves on the college will assuredly assume great proportions. The grounds attached to the college are very large and afford plenty of room for out-door amusements, so in the future we may expect to hear of St Patrick’s College footballers and cricketers. Thus the inhabitants of the Armidale diocese are extremely fortunate in having such a magnificent edifice as the Cathedral and in being in a position to give their children a sound Catholic education, fitting them for the burden of life as good citizens and good Catholics, and very justly may they esteem and honour the revered head of their diocese, who has laboured so long and is still labouring in their behalf. The convent new school is going up rapidly. It now presents a very imposing appearance, consisting of three stories. The Roman Catholic block of buildings is considered equal to any in the colony. Steps are being taken to welcome the Very Rev Dean O’Connor, who is expected to arrive here during the latter end of May, after his twelve months’ tour abroad.
Freemans Journal, October 13, 1889, p 15
ST PATRICK’S COLLEGE, ARMIDALEBlessing the Building. The ceremonies in connection with the blessing of St Patrick’s College, Armidale by his Lordship the Right Rev Dr Torreggiani, Bishop of the Diocese, on Sunday last, were of an imposing character. The blessing was preceded by High Mass in the Cathedral, of which Dean O’Connor was the celebrant, the choir being under the direction of Mdlle Percevale. There was a very large congregation, and a most eloquent sermon was preached by the Very Rev Alphonsus O’Neill, Superior of the Passionists, showing the necessity for religious training in connection with education, and appealing to those present to be generous in their contributions towards the fund for the completion of St Patrick’s college. The result exceeded the most sanguine expectations, the very handsome sum of 500 pounds being collected. Out of this sum, Measrs W and J Miller generously gave 100 pounds each, Bishop Torreggiani, 100 pounds, Dean O’Connor 25 pounds. In the afternoon a procession was formed, consisting of a large number of pupils from the College and Parochial schools, members of the Guild, and the Cathedral congregation. Large numbers of people accompanied or preceded the procession. The College was festively and elaborately decorated with banners, wreaths, and appropriate mottoes adorned the various walls. The Bishop, Dr Torreggiani, assisted by Father O’Neill, Dean O’Connor and Brother Eugene, then blessed the building. After the blessing his Lordship, in a lengthy discourse, sketched the Catholic history of the Armidale diocese until its subdivision into that of Armidale and Grafton, paying a well-merited tribute to the first Bishop of the new Seat of Grafton, Dr Doyle. His Lordship also enumerated the many Catholic schools throughout his vast diocese, which extended over 5400 miles, where, on his taking possession, were to be found only two, one in Armidale and the other if Grafton. He appealed to all to show by their generosity, as some had already done that morning, that their hearty co-operation was with him in the establishment of this College. Mr Donnelly and Mr Kearney then spoke in support of the claims of the College, the former exhorting all to make a sacrifice towards the liquidation of the debt on this College, which promised to become one of the finest in the colony, being, as it is, situated in the centre of a rich mining district, and also midway between the two capitals of New South Wales and Queensland. Some supplementary subscriptions were announced by Dean O’Connor. Brother Eugene, on behalf of the Brothers of St Patrick, thanked the Bishop, priests and people of the diocese for their generosity. His Lordship Dr Torreggiani also addressed the assemblage and expressed his gratification at the generous sprit shown that day. The blessing and speech-making being over, a splendid repeat awaited the visitors in the large refectory attached to the college, prepared under the direction of the good wife of the Mayor of Armidale. In the evening Father O’Neill again preached in the cathedral to a crowded congregation.
Freemans Journal, November 23, 1889, p 18
ARMIDALE (from a Corespondent)Last week, His Lordship Dr Torreggiani left Armidale for the purpose of installing the Very Rev Dean Mitchell as parish priest of Inverell. He was accompanied by the Very Rev Dean O’Connor, and was met at Inverell by the Very Rev Dean Flanagan, the pastor of Emmaville. Things passed off very satisfactorily and his Lordship returned by the end of the week. Preparations are being made at Uralla for another bazaar to liquidate the debt of the church buildings. I believe it comes off by next March. The new church, the new convent, and the school of Uralla are indeed a credit to the zeal and faith of these good people. You may be able to conceive some idea of them when you understand that already between three and four thousand pounds have been extended upon them. Though this town is but twenty three miles form Armidale it has to the number of one hundred children attending the convent schools. Our senior member has obtained permission from the Government for the establishment of a cadet corps of St Patrick’s College boys. This indeed, will be a great advantage to the young men attending this institution, and a most desirable element in their training. The usual fortnightly meeting of the Temperance Association was held on last Friday evening at St Mary’s Schoolroom. In the absence of the president. The Very Rev Dean O’Connor, the chair was taken by the worthy vice-president, Mr Donnelly. The principal announcement of the meeting was that on next night of meeting an entertainment would be given. Though the association has now been started only something over a month, its members number over one hundred. It seems to be making great headway, and already has done much good.
Freemans Journal, November 30, 1889, p 15
ENLARGMENT OF ST PATRICK’S COLLEGE, ARMIDALETo consider the plans for the proposed extension of St Patrick’s College, Armidale, an influential meeting was held in the schoolroom last Sunday. The Very Rev Dean O’Connor, in the Bishop’s absence, occupied the chair, and on his submitting the plans, said that owing to the success which had attended the college under the able guidance of Brother Eugene the accommodation for the coming year was not sufficient. He had mingled feelings of joy and sorrow in bringing them together for this object-of-joy on account of the success of the college, and of sorrow that the time was so short since the grand and generous response of the people on the occasion of the opening of the college. Mr Donnelly proposed that tenders be called immediately to erect the proposed building, and in doing so he wished to draw attention to the fact that the outlying districts of the Diocese mostly likely benefit by the boarding accommodation in the College were not yet canvassed. The Dean said, in answer to Mr Donnelly, that it was Lordship’s intention to do so, when he could procure a priest or a brother for the work. Mr P Mckinlay, JP, said, he had great pleasure in seconding the motion proposed by Mr Donnelly. Brother Eugene explained that there was sufficient time to call for tenders, and erect the building before the re-opening of the school on 21st of January. He said there were seven clear weeks for the construction of the building, and it took only eight for the present wing. The show of hands was taken, when there was a majority for calling for tenders. Mr J Sheahan CPS said that the very fact of having to enlarge the building spike volumes for its success. He could speak for the whole community when he said there was not a dissentient voice to the carrying out of the enlargement. Mr Trim, the mayor, said he always advocated the calling of tenders, because then everyone was satisfied, seeing there was no favour shown to one builder more than another.
Freemans Journal, February 8, 1890
BROTHERS OF ST PATRICKThe SS Parramatta brought out several Patrician Brothers, viz – Brothers Stanislaus Maher and Andrew Ryan for the College in Armidale and John Lee, Regis Dwyer, Dominick Rigerby, James Ryan, and Matthew McGrath for the Diocese of Bathurst. The new Brothers are to open the school at Orange, in the Bathurst Diocese, next Easter. In connection with the Patrician Brothers’ School at St Vincent’s, Redfern, in the Diocese of Sydney, we note with pleasure that one of their pupils, Master E Kelly has won one of the Arch Bishop Vaughan Memorial Scholarships, which entitles him to three years education at Riverview College. The bright young lad is a son of Mr H E Kelly, the respected secretary of the Hibernian Society. Last year a similar scholarship was carried off by another pupil of the same school, Master J Ryan.
Freemans Journal, December 20, 1890, p.18
ST PATRICK’S COLLEGE, ARMIDALE.The breaking-up of St. Patrick’s College, Armidale, was distinguished by a long list of celebrations, commencing in the forenoon with sports, which were held on the show ground, and attracted a good attendance. The day was fine and, we are told, everything went of swimmingly. The distribution of prizes took place in the old Town Hall in the evening. The hall was packed with a large and enthusiastic audience. The proceedings opened with a concert, which consisted of music, vocal and instrumental, and recitations. Mr C B Foster conducted the affair. A considerable amount of skill and ability was manifested in the pianoforte and violin performances, and the remainder of the programme was filled in with songs and choruses by the different scholars. The different numbers were well received and heartily applauded by the audience, and in many cases encores were demanded. At the conclusion of the concert, Brother Eugene, President of the College, read his annual report. In the report it was claimed that though established only two years, the college was successfully competing with institutions whose existence could be reckoned by decades. It rivalled those institutions not only in numbers but also in efficiency, and with the continued co-operation of its many and generous friends, it seemed destined in the near future to hold a prominent place among the educational establishments of the colony. At the close of the last year, increased demand on the space made it necessary for the Brothers of St. Patrick to put an addition to wing in which the College was started, and through the energy of the contractor, Mr Elliot, the new portion, at a cost of 600 pounds, was put up in time to meet the increase in numbers. The Brothers procured, at their own expense, furniture for the College. During the year eighty boys passed through the college – thirty-one of whom were boarders and forty nine day-pupils. The average number attending each quarter was 25 boarders and 40 day boys. The moral tone of the College was very satisfactory indeed, while their spiritual wants had been attended to with scrupulous exactness – thanks to his Lordship and the untiring zeal of his clergy. The application of the boys to their various studies, on the whole, was very fair. Indeed the strict supervision of the prefects of study left them little room to err on that point. As was natural in a new institution, the majority of the boys were confined to elementary subjects, the number engaged at classics and the higher branches of education being comparatively few. However, for the past half-year 24 boys had been studying classics, and 35 modern languages, which shows a decided improvement on the first half of the present year, and holds out a good prospect for the coming one. Five boys passed at the Junior Examination at the University, one of whom Master F. Cox, passed creditably, bringing a first-class in arithmetic, geography, geology, English, French and Greek, and by some mishap a second-class in Latin, though his best subject. The permanent staff of the College, it was pointed out, consisted of three teachers, besides whom Professor Foster and Mr H. Donnelly attended to the music and singing. In conclusion the Brothers heartily thanked their many and generous supporters. In the first place, his Lordship, the Bishop, for his kind patronage and the deep interest which he takes in St. Patrick’s; and in the second place, his zealous clergy, who had spared no pains in procuring boarders for the college, and who are untiring in their efforts to make it a success; and finally, the good people of Armidale for the more than generous support which they had given. Before his Lordship, Dr. Torreggiani proceeded with the distribution of the prizes, the following acknowledgement was made – Very Rev. Dean O’Connor, prizes in books; Very Rev. Father McGuinness, two medals (gold and silver); Very Rev. Father O’Sullivan, prizes in books; Mr J M Sheahan, prizes in books; Mr M Ryan, prizes in books. His Lordship the Bishop, in course of a congratulatory address, recalled his first arrival in Armidale eleven years ago, when the Reception Committee lamented the want of educational establishments in the diocese. At that time there were but two Catholic Schools throughout the whole district – one at Armidale and one at Grafton. The Convent High School was beginning just then, thanks to the community of Ursulines who came out from Germany to establish it, and when it was set fairly on the way the question came up how to supply the school for boys? This difficulty was solved by the Patrician Brothers, who generously came to Armidale and opened the establishment of St Patrick’s College. Since his arrival a great increase had taken place in the number of schools. Armidale had now a College and a Convent High School, while there were schools in every town of any importance throughout the whole diocese. Thanks to the generous support which he had received from the people, not only of his own denomination, the work had been carried steadily on. Mr T J Kearney briefly referred to the increase in educational establishments, and concluded by moving a hearty vote of thanks to Bishop Torreggiani, which was carried by acclamation. Cheers were then given for his Lordship, Bro. Eugene, Mr Boyne, and the College.
Freemans Journal, 24 November, 1891, p.10
ARMIDALE (From a Correspondent)SCHOOLS – I have seen a copy of the Very. Rev. M. O’Sullivan’s annual report of the Primary schools of the diocese, and judging from the very high percentage obtained in each case, and particularly in the essential subjects, the work done in the schools for the past year cannot be surpassed in excellence in any part of the colony. All the Primary schools are taught by religious teachers. The Armidale girls’ school, conducted by the Ursuline Nuns, and the boys’ school, by the Brothers of St. Patrick, hold prominent place on the list. St Patrick’s re-opens on Tuesday, 27th inst., when Brother Eugene, the President of the College, is certain to have a splendid “muster”. St Patrick’s, now only commencing the third year of its existence, has already earned for itself, as an educational establishment, a reputation that attracts to its halls, students not only from the Diocese of Armidale, but also from other Dioceses and other colonies. The liberal course of studies, the quality of the education imparted, and the almost marvellous success of the college during the two years of its existence have brought home to the minds of parents that it is no longer necessary for them to send their children away to the establishments of the metropolis to enjoy the advantages of higher education.
Freemans Journal, 14 November, 1891, p.18
ST PATRICK’S COLLEGE, ARMIDALE……….. The college itself is well situated. Built upon rising ground and surrounded by open country, it is sufficiently close to the town for all practical purposes, while its secluded position is naturally conducive to a scholastic life. Through want of funds, the building could not be completed according to the original design; but when the present debt is paid off and the left wing added it will be a beautiful, commodious, substantial structure.
IntroductionThe Sisters of Mercy first came to what is now the Armidale Diocese in 1879 to the “hamlet” of Gunnedah and established both primary and secondary schools. In subsequent years there were Mercy foundations throughout the diocese with new schools being opened up until 1956. Their schools were established before public education in a number of towns and, whilst they were founded mainly for Catholic students, right from the beginning they educated any child who could not get schooling, no matter what their religious faith. In association with their work in schools the Sisters were involved in a social ministry to their children, their parents and to adults and children of all denominations who were in need of any kind. This work, while encompassing a wide spectrum was more formally carried on in the institutions of St Patrick’s Orphanage, Armidale, the Convent of Mercy Nursing Home and McAuley Hostel for the Aged in Gunnedah.
FounderThe Sisters of Mercy are a religious community of women, involved in the mission of the church in the world. As members of the Roman Catholic Church, they vow to serve the poor, the sick and the uneducated. The special charisma of the Sisters of Mercy is based on the inspiration and example of Catherine McAuley, their foundress, who “served the needy with courage and compassion, with a special concern for women”. Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland in 1831. Since then the Order has grown to become the largest congregation of religious women in the English – speaking world numbering some 16,000 Sisters in the 1990’s. They have spread to many non-English -speaking countries, such as Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Samoa, Tonga, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil, Argentina, Bahamas and others. The Sisters of Mercy first came to Australia in 1846 to establish schools and social works in Perth. Their leader was Mother Mary Ursula Frayne, an Irishwoman, who had known Catherine McAuley.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Armidale Diocese (as it is known in 1999) has two foundresses, both Irish women who came to Australia as missionaries.In Gunnedah, the foundress is Mother Mary Aloysius O’Driscoll, a native of Ennis and Mother Mary Vincent Mulhall, the foundress pf Emmaville, a native of Roscommon who came from the Sisters of Mercy in Tullamore. They were courageous women with a vision for the diocese where every young person would be schooled, not only in religious education, reading, writing and arithmetic, but would be able to adopt the values and norms of society of the time by means of an education which offered music, speech, art, dancing, natural sciences, commercial skills and physical education to their students. Commencing with three professional Sisters and one postulant in Gunnedah and two professed Sisters and one postulant in Emmaville, the Sisters of Mercy in the Armidale Diocese reached a total of 125 Sisters in 1929. In 199 there are 29 Sisters.
LogoThe Sisters of Mercy logo is a distinctive Cross. Three crosses are interlaid with silver, black and silver. This contemporary emblem preserves the symbol of the original Mercy Cross chosen by the foundress, Catherine McAuley. She saw it, as do her Sisters, as their identification with Christ crucified.
Establishment and Movement in the Diocese
1879 GunnedahThe Sisters of Mercy from Singleton were invited to the Gunnedah Parish by Bishop Murray of Maitland (Gunnedah was then in the Maitland Diocese) and the Parish Priest, Fr Denis English. They arrived in Gunnedah on 3rd January where “people of the hamlet, led by the Bishop of the diocese and the priest of the parish, the Rev Denis English, came out to the heights above the town to welcome the Sisters”. (1) A primary school was opened immediately with classes being taught in the gallery of the Church which was built in 1875. This primary school was to become known as St Xavier’s School, situated on the corner of Henry and Bloomfield Streets, Gunnedah. At the same time, in a small wooden four – roomed house named the Convent and rented at a pound a week, “a high school was opened, the room for this purpose during the day, serving as a dormitory (for the Sisters) at night”. (1) This high school would become known as St Mary’s College and had moved by the end o 1880 to a permanent brick structure on the block of land directly opposite St Xavier’s School. St Mary’s gave accommodation to the Sisters and girl boarders from the surrounding district.
1884 GraftonAt the invitation of Bishop Torreggiani, eight Sisters of Mercy from Bermondsey, England arrived in Grafton, which at the time was a part of Armidale Diocese. The Sisters established primary and secondary schools in Grafton and, in a short time, schools throughout the north – coast area of the diocese.
1885 EmmavilleIn July 1885, Mother Mary Vincent Mulhall, having come from Tullamore in Ireland with one other professed Sister and a Postulant was invited at the request of Bishop Torreggiani, to found a Mercy community at Emmaville, “ a rough and ready tin and arsenic mining town in the north of the diocese”. (Letter Sr M Francesca d. 1962) This community of Sisters established a primary school and later a secondary school and a girls’ boarding school. With the demise of the mining industry the population decreased remarkably. The school was closed in 1961.
1887The northern boundary of the Maitland diocese moved further south and west and this change left Tamworth, Gunnedah and Quirindi in the Armidale diocese and put Grafton in the Lismore diocese. As the Sisters of Mercy at Gunnedah were no longer in the Maitland diocese it became an independent foundation. Mother Mary Aloysius O’Driscoll was the first superior; there were two professed Sisters and a Postulant with her in the community maintaining the two schools in Gunnedah.
1889 NarrabriDr Torreggiani, Bishop of Armidale, requested that the Sisters of Mercy take over the primary school in Narrabri from the Sisters of St Joseph who had founded it in 1885. Although there were only four professed Sisters in the Gunnedah community, two went to Narrabri in January 1889. The Sisters maintained the primary school, established a high school and a second primary school at Narrabri Wet to which the two Sisters travelled daily by train in the earlier days. In 1929 the enrolment was 160 in the primary school in town, 30 students in the high school and 80 students in Narrabri West school.
1891 InverellDr Torreggiani requested a Mercy community to take over the Josephite primary school at Inverell and to establish a high school. This work began in January 1891. In addition to their teaching duties in the school the Sisters had a boarding school for girls from primary to high school level and a boarding school for boys to the age of 12. A second primary school was established at St Mary’s, Rose Hill and the Sisters travelled there daily to teach. The school was closed in the 1970’s with the movement of primary students to the Holy Trinity site.
1898 MoreeThe parish priest of Moree, Rev Fr McGuinness, applied for a Mercy community for Moree where there was no Catholic education. A rented four – room cottage with a large hoard “Model Laundry” was the Convent in which one room “served in the daytime as a high school and as a dormitory (for the Sisters) at night … a barn like building which, unlined and unfurnished was the primary school”(1). Later boarders (girls and younger boys) were taken at the new Convent building. A second primary school was established at East Moree, the Sisters travelling by horse and buggy daily to teach. In 1929 the enrolment at East Moree was 150 with primary and secondary school in Moree proper numbering 207.
1907 WalchaThe parish of Walcha invited the Sisters of Mercy to their town in 1907 and “a pretty little Convent and nice little school were in readiness for the Sisters on their arrival”(1). Initially this was a primary school but within a few years secondary classes had commenced and continued until the 1960’s.
1914 DeepwaterThe Sisters from Emmaville established a Convent and primary school at Deepwater on the New England Highway and Northern Railway in 1914. With a decrease in the size of the town and children available for schooling, the school was closed in 1965.
1919 ArmidaleDr. O’Connor, Bishop of Armidale, decided to found an orphanage at Armidale and asked the Sisters of Mercy to take charge of it. The foundation stone was laid in 1919 and the institute opened in 1920. In 1924 there were 120 children in the Sisters’ care. The Sisters educated those children who were of school age (many younger) and provided the older girls (the boys went to Westmead after 6th Class) with secondary education.
1924 MungindiThe Sisters of Mercy were invited by the people of Mungindi on the northwest border of New South Wales and Queensland to found a school in their isolated township. Four Sisters opened the school in 1924. In addition to the primary school, a boarding school provided care for isolated girls and boys of the Mungindi district.
1956 DelungraAt the request of Bishop Doody, a Mercy community was established at Delungra in the Bingara Parish. A brick school was built and a primary school conducted by the Sisters. After some years the Convent was closed and two Sisters travelled daily from Inverell to teach the students. The school was closed in 1969.
Closure of Secondary SchoolsIt will be noted from the above that most schools had secondary departments for many years. The curriculum offered was standard for the time, offering three years of secondary education. The students did well, a number of them winning bursaries for Fourth and Fifth Years at the larger schools within and without the diocese. The Sisters in these schools also taught commercial skills (book-keeping, shorthand, typing) and music to their students. The closure of these secondary departments occurred about the time of the Wyndham Report (1964). This change in secondary education demanded, among other things, fully equipped science rooms and craft facilities. At this time there were no government subsidies for buildings, nor a subvention which would assist in employing the extra staff required. The Sisters of Mercy were unable to provide more Sisters to the schools, the parishes were unable to raise the finance (there was no ADIG) to provide buildings or pay for lay staff. The last secondary schools staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, with the exception of St Mary’s College, Gunnedah, and Holy Trinity, Inverell, were Narrabri and Moree, both of which closed in 1966. (1) St. Mary’s College Magazine 1929.
The Contribution of The Sisters of Mercy to the Armidale DioceseThe contribution of the Sisters of Mercy to the Armidale Diocese is difficult to quantify. The following words attributed to a Layman and written as an Obituary on the death of Mother Mary Aloysius O’Driscoll in 1912 and quoted in St Mary’s College, Gunnedah Magazine 1929, are indicative of the Sister’s contribution in Gunnedah: a contribution which would extend throughout the Diocese.
She came to us in the hour of need. Things were not well with us – much indeed quite wrong with us. Remote from the large centres we had grown to disregard the important conventions of civilisation and in our pastimes were fast reverting to those of the primitive – surely no plastic material for the lofty idealist to work upon, but her faith was great, her hope high, and her courage undaunted. Gifted with rare discernment and all patient tact she was no disturber of the peace. In effect she said to us, “Go your ways. Your way is not our way. But give us your children and together with them and through them we will strive for a better way.” We had sufficient sense to do this with the result we all know.The Sisters of Mercy, like the Sisters of St Joseph, went into the small, remote and isolated areas of the diocese taking with them a faith in God which they planted in all the areas to which their influence extended. Their teaching curriculum was broad and extended far beyond the “3 R’s” to a pursuit of cultural and craft works which prepared their students for a wide variety of careers. They set up the first “TAFE Colleges” teaching what was termed “commercial work” which enabled many young men and women to take their place in the fields of commerce. Their influence extended far beyond the immediate small town in which they lived a communal life; their large network of boarding schools enabled those who would ordinarily be deprived of an education – no matter what their religious beliefs and practices – to have a broad education which would fit them for life. In addition to their teaching they were the first “social workers” in these areas in which they lived by feeding, clothing, housing, counselling all those in need. They would go around the streets after school and at weekends carrying out work and seeking out those people in need of spiritual nourishment as well as physical comforts.
Direction of the Sisters of Mercy in the context of the DioceseThe Sisters of Mercy in the Armidale Diocese in the late 1990’s and into the new millennium will be few. Their work of teaching in schools is finished. However, the Sisters are committed to the rural people among whom they live and work. Sisters are to be found in fewer towns in the diocese yet wherever they live they are committed to working with people in bringing God’s Kingdom in our time. Sisters of Mercy are involved throughout the Diocese as Pastoral Associates, Care of the Aged at McAuley Hostel in Gunnedah, in the Armidale Diocese Pastoral and Spirituality Centre at Gunnedah, informal social work within the Government sector, in supporting and encouraging farmers, in taking an active role in seeking social justice for rural people in a country diocese, being active members of diocesan committees, teaching catechetics to children in State schools and sponsoring education at St May’s College, Gunnedah and other works of mercy. All in all, the Sisters of Mercy have put themselves and their resources at the service of the Armidale Diocese – its people and its clergy – continuing a tradition begun with the first Sisters of Mercy who came to the diocese in 1879; they will continue to do this for as long as there are Sisters of Mercy in the diocese.
IntroductionFrom the time of their foundation in South Australia in 1866 to their arrival in Armidale diocese in 1880, the Sisters of St Joseph became known for their pioneer work in the catholic education of children in isolated areas. By 1880 they were working in the dioceses of Adelaide, Queensland and Bathurst, and were seen by the bishops in these dioceses to be a timely answer to challenges facing catholic education for children at this time. This work in remote areas of settlement has been their priority.
FounderMary MacKillop’s decision to consecrate herself to God for the catholic education of children in remote bush areas began in Penola in South Australia in 1866. Within a few years she had forty companions following a rule of life written by Fr Julian Tenison Woods, approved by Bishop LB Sheil for the diocese of Adelaide. The first foundation outside Adelaide was made in Queensland as early as January 1870 at the invitation of Bishop James Quinn. Mary agreed to stay for more than a year, mainly because the bishop was away from his diocese in Rome. Returning to Adelaide in April 1871, however, she was disturbed to find tension among sisters concerning a few of the in number favoured by Fr Woods as “visionaries”. Priests too, for a number of reasons, were dissatisfied. In the absence of their bishop also, they believed Fr woods, as Diocesan Director of Catholic Education in Adelaide, wielded too much authority in their parish schools. In their view too, the sisters were taking more notice of him than of themselves. On his return to Adelaide in February, Bishop Sheil was met by priests opposed to Fr Woods, who presented him with a petition against the Director, the sisters and the schools.
The OutcomeBy late September, the unfortunate outcome was that the disaffected priests had prevailed on the ailing bishop to change the rule of the institute in their favour. Mary requested to see the bishop concerning the changes, but under pressure from one or two bad advisers who misconstrued her request, the bishop excommunicated her in September 1871. Five months later just before his death Bishop Sheil withdrew the sentence, the institute and the sisters were reinstated, and a further foundation was made in 1872 at Bathurst at the invitation of Bishop Matthew Quinn. The Bishops Quinn, while wanting the sisters for their schools, had trouble accepting the rule as formulated by Fr Woods. To them it was suggesting a new type of internal government for the institute of which they were unfamiliar. Their presence was to have the institute under diocesan control. Advised to take the rule to Rome in 1873 for its examination, Mary MacKillop was not only given approval of central government for the Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph but a Constitution which strengthened it. Roman authorities agreed that Mary MacKillop’s proposal was designed to suit Australian conditions, and such a structure of central government was necessary fort this institute. Bishops, however, were still free to have their own diocesan institutes. By 1876 in Bathurst and 1880 in Queensland, it was clear to Mary MacKillop that her institute was not welcome in either diocese. Deeply concerned about the religious vocation, spiritual and physical well being of the sisters in these dioceses, Mary MacKillop reluctantly had them withdrawn. It was soon to be discovered that central government posed no threat to a bishop who was a member of a religious order like a Franciscan or a Benedictine, as in Armidale or Sydney at the time.
Foundations in Armidale DioceseWhen Bishop Elzear Torreggiani OSFC, recently consecrated in England, arrived in Armidale on 25th November 1879, he was faced with a NSW Education Act terminating financial assistance to denominational schools as from 1882. En route to Armidale he had stayed some days with Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB (Sydney) who would have briefed the new Bishop James Quinn’s inability to accept the central government of the Sisters of St Joseph even though it had been approved by Rome. He was to find out too, that a significant number of these sisters were leaving Queensland on their way back to Adelaide. Further, he knew that Archbishop Vaughan had invited Mary MacKillop and her sisters to work in some country schools in his Archdiocese. Bishop Torreggiani met Mary MacKillop in Sydney in December 1879 to discuss with her the possibility of having the Sisters of St Joseph in the diocese of Armidale. He lost no time in writing to her on 17 January 1880:
“I am please with your king and thoughtful letter and the little Book of Constitutions which you kindly sent me. It appears to me that your holy Institute is admirably adapted to my poor diocese… your Institute will extend itself rapidly in the diocese of Armidale.”
Tenterfield (1880-1992)In the same letter the bishop continued:
“As Rev Fr Keenan has asked already for some of your Sisters, so I give him full permission to accept you in his mission at Tenterfield and beg of you to make final arrangements with him as soon as possible. For my part you may rest assured that I shall do my best to help you in every way I can, and I hope that before long you will be able to have a Province in my diocese.” For his part, Fr Keenan assured Mother Mary (19 January 1880): “I will be prepared to receive the Sisters as soon as you can conveniently send them… I will receive them as well as I can.”Mary MacKillop wrote to Bishop Torreggiani (15 March 1880): “My dear Lord, your telegram did not reach me until last night as it had to be forwarded to me here (Sydney), hence the delay in replying. I am very sorry we have not more Sisters coming from Queensland to supply the places you mentioned… I regret very much having to leave NSW without seeing your Lordship. Please rest assured I will do my best to obtain the Sisters you require.” In the meantime, Mary arranged for three Sisters to travel cross country from Brisbane to Tenterfield. Sr Gonzaga Kennedy wrote to her Superior General in Adelaide (17 April 880): “We arrived here on Good Friday (26 March)… Fr Keenan had a furnished house taken for us, so grand with mirrors in each room. He is so kind to us and thinks he can’t do enough for us. We commenced work on Holy Saturday and had to prepare the children for Confirmation and First Communion as the Bishop was expected in a fortnight… he confirmed nearly fifty persons last Sunday… he was please with the order of the children… he told me to tell you ha has three foundations waiting and if you would agree to a boarding school in Armidale as the people have to sent their children to Parramatta. He intends giving up his own house for a convent… our school is small, only 35, but I think it will soon increase. They are very backward in everything.” St Justina, member of the original community also wrote to Mother Mary (13 June): “The ladies are very good and have worked hard to get the convent furnished. You will find us quite grand when you come to visit us… Sr Bonventure (Provincial) sent us word last week that she was leaving Sydney with the Sisters for Inverell. I fear she will get a great shaking on the coach as the roads are very bad I believe.” Sr Cyril was a new postulant with the community and she too wrote to Mother Mary (16 June): “Dear Mother, I am trying to get on with my studies and I am very happy… Our school is increasing, we have 57 children now.”
Inverell (1880-1890)Bishop Torreggiani had also arranged with Mary MacKillop to receive a community of sisters for Inverell. Mary expressed her pleasure to Sr Bonaventure, NSW Provincial for “managing to open Inverell” (18 May 1880). Three Sisters, Casimir, Lucy, Philomena arrived there with the Provincial on 11 June 1880. Their early letters described how the ladies of the parish had prepared the house with Chinese matting on the floor, a piece of carpet before each bed and a well-stocked pantry. The pastor, Fr Cherubini, OSFC, they found to be like their dear friend in Bundaberg, Fr Rossolini. School commenced with 57; by the end of July the enrolment had doubled to 105. Sr Casimir Meskill wrote to Mother Mary (26 July 1880): “They intend beginning a new schoolroom next month. It is to be on the church ground and is about five minutes walk from the convent. We are all well and happy, thank God. I know nothing will please you better, dear Mother, than to hear that.” Fr Cherubini also wrote to Mary MacKillop (9 August 1880): “Thanks without number for having sent up your good Sisters who are doing a great deal of good and make my mind so easy in respect to our poor Catholic children who were nearly altogether abandoned.” From the Freeman’s Journal (26 February 1881): “Great praise is due to the Sisters of St Joseph for their zealous and successful exertions in bringing up the children under their charge in such a generally successful manner, for their behaviour at church on Sunday last plainly showed what kind of religious education has been instilled by the good Sisters into their minds and hearts.” Bishop Torreggiani was able to tell Mary MacKillop (6 June 1881): “I am now building a nice little convent for your Sisters at Inverell that would be a suitable resident for a Provincial. I was much pleased with all the good Sisters at Inverell.”
Narrabri (1882-1889)Catholic education in Narrabri seemingly was established by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1882, with an enrolment of 35 pupils. The parish had been formed in 1880 with Fr J Doyle the parish priest. From the Josephite records however, it appears that the beginning was not as well planned as at Tenterfield and Inverell. Apparently Fr Doyle who was extremely good to the Sisters, vacated with house till a convent was built. The correspondence concerning Narrabri, however, does not start until some three years later, when on 11 June 1885, Bishop Torreggiani wrote to Mary MacKillop: “The Narrabri people are going on with the convent building as fast as they can. My wish is to see the Sisters comfortable, that is the reason for the delay.” A comment of Fr Joseph Doyle in his letter to the bishop (17 June 885) is curios: “We are making a path from the presbytery to the church and I will do all in my power to make the Sisters satisfied with the unhappy fortune which consigns them to Narrabri. Kindly write me any suggestions which you think will help me.” To Mary MacKillop, Fr Doyle wrote (13 August 1885) explaining his busy schedule, and with apologies that the convent would not be ready till October, but that he was anxious to do everything in his power to assist the Sisters. He continued: “It is not news to you to hear that the Sisters are getting on well with the children. The same thing occurs every place you establish yourselves, but I may say that the people here are delighted at the way things are going on and we feel ourselves under a deep obligation to you and your Order, and we hope and pray that Almighty God will enable you to do for other missions in many places the great work you have begun in Narrabri.” For the Sisters, it is quite apparent that they were prepared to accept whatever the conditions at Narrabri, for the sake of Fr Doyle. Sr Agnese wrote to Mother Mary of Fr Doyle’s kindness. “I have never met a kinder priest, and anything we wish to do, he is only too anxious to give consent… When you come up you will see for yourself how good and king he is.”
Glen Innes (1883)Regarding the foundation at Glen Innes, the bishop wrote to Mother Mary from Tenterfield (29 October 1883):
“…I am very pleased to hear that the good Sisters are ready for Glen Innes. The little convent at Glen Innes is quite completed and beautifully furnished. I blessed it last Sunday week. Dr Redwood (NZ) was with me. I think it would be much better for the Sisters to go to Glen Innes after Christmas when I could accompany them for the opening of school… the opening then will be a great success. The people are most anxious to have the Sisters and will do their very best to support them. If you will kindly let me know how much money is wanted to bring the Sisters from Adelaide to Glen Innes, I will direct a collection to be made at once to defray all expenses.”An extract from Freeman’s Journal (2 February 1884) reads: “On Tuesday 15 January, four Sisters of St Joseph, accompanied by Dr Torreggiani, Bishop of Armidale, and Rev J Doyle of Narrabri assisted at Glen Innes. The were met at Glencoe, a distance of about twelve miles, by Rev Marianus Bambini, OSFC and a large number of leading Catholics, and escorted by them to town. Arriving at the convent where a very large number of ladies and gentlemen had previously met to welcome the Sisters, His Lordship thanked them for the hearty and encouraging welcome the has so kindly accorded the good Sisters.”
Uralla (1886 -1965)Uralla was the next foundation that was requested. Originally it was part of the parish of Armidale, and was set in a growing gold mining district from 1852. The spiritual needs of the congregation were cared for by the priests in Armidale. After a parish meeting in 1885 the approach was made to Mary MacKillop who left the negotiations to the NSW Provincial for the Sisters of St Joseph to establish a Catholic parochial school in Uralla. Within a month the foundation stone of the convent was laid by Bishop Torreggiani, assisted by Dean PJ O’Connor. The Sisters commenced their school in the following January (1886) when Cardinal Moran (Sydney), assisted by Bishop Torreggiani and Bishop Murray (Maitland) blessed the convent. In their usual fashion, the Catholic people of the district met the bishops and clergy some miles out of town and escorted them into Uralla. In his address Cardinal Moran said: “A convent in a town is as a stream of limpid water in an and desert, its pious teaching by holy women refreshed the thirsty soul, being a blessing alike to Catholics and all denominations.”
Quirindi (1888)Before 1887 Quirindi school was in the diocese of Maitland and was served by the diocesan Josephites founded from Lochinvar. With the change of diocesan boundaries in that year it became part of the Armidale diocese. Bishop Torreggiani wrote to Mary MacKillop and M. Bernard (11 August 1887): “When you were here last, you promised to let me have three of your good Sisters for Casino. Now I want you to secure them for Quirindi instead of Casino. It will be a portion of my diocese in future. and a nice place for your Sisters, forming a sort of half-way house to Narrabri and Uralla, and a very convenient way to break the long journey. The convent and church are already built and furnished… Your Sisters in my diocese give me great satisfaction and they do a great deal of good. May God bless them forever, and may He reward you for your charity here and hereafter.” For 30 years the convent at Quirindi was the provincial house for the communities of the Sisters of St Joseph working in the Armidale diocese. When the new imposing convent was built at Glen Innes in 1917, at the junction of the Gwydir and New England Highways it became the Provincial House.
Hillgrove (1889 -1921)Curiously, the Mary MacKillop Archive has no record of any correspondence between Bishop Torreggiani and either Mary MacKillop or M. Bernard concerning the Sisters of St Joseph making a foundation at the gold-mining town of Hillgrove. Gold was discovered there in 1882 and soon the population grew rapidly to 30,000 people. Priests travelled out by horse and sulky from Armidale for about twenty years for Mass, celebrated in a small wooden church there. The Catholic Directory records that the sisters were there as early as 1889. Emily O’Connor, a former parishioner recalled that the convent, a one-storey building was situated behind the church, and the weatherboard school in the allotment behind the convent. She remembered that “the Sisters were loved by the people as they visited them after school, especially when there was a sorrow or distress after a mine caved in; they were the solace and help of afflicted families,- in truth, the ‘spirit’ of Hillgrove. The annual concert encouraged the cultural aspects of their education, which brought as much public praise as their formal education. Bazaars and dances were organised by the parishioners to provide finance for the Sisters’ livelihood”.
Mary MacKillop visited the convent and school in May 1896 and gave her glowing report: “This is a very comfortable convent of 7 good rooms and kitchen… everything breathes of order and cleanliness. The back verandah is a splendid one and must be a lovely and much used room in summer. The whole place has an air of retirement and comfort and the dean has done his best for the Sisters… the dormitory is a large airy room, the beds good and comfortable. I am particularly pleased with the pictures nearly all of which are poor and framed in plain Oxford frames, the only gild one being a portrait of the dean which hangs in the reception room. Under the circumstances I think it better to let it remain there framed as it is … The attending priest takes his tea on Saturday and his meals on Sunday at the convent … for a short time, he comes into our recreation but never overstays the time. Ae Sisters are the most united and happy community I have seen, not but that all are happy in this Province, only I think the dean by his cheerful fatherly kindness has made this a particularly natural and happy community.”In the few years following the foundation of the Sisters of Mercy in Gunnedah from Singleton in 1887, they were ready to open a branch house in one or two places in the Armidale diocese. By negotiations through Bishop Torreggiani and the Sisters of St Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy took up the work of Catholic education in Narrabri in 1889 and in Inverell in 1891. At the suggestion of the Provincial, Sr Josephine Carolan, Dean Mitchell was ready to seek permission of the bishop for the Sisters of Mercy to take the school at Inverell. Both Bishop Torreggiani and Mother Bernard, Superior General at the time, agreed to the proposal.
Tingha (1890 – 1965)With the withdrawal of the Sisters of St Joseph from Inverell in 1890, and on Bishop Torreggiani’s request, M. Bernard agreed to send Sisters the following January to the outlying but growing tin-mining village of Tingha. On 5 December 1890, the bishop wrote to M. Bernard: “I was much pleased to see Mother Mary of the Cross here (Armidale) last Wednesday morning. She left yesterday for the convent at Glen Innes… I have explained to her the affair about Inverell. She quite agrees with me that it will do well for both parties. Three Sisters of St Joseph will do wonders at Tingha. The people are anxious to have them there and will do their best to help them in every way… If one of them can teach music the Sisters will have a large number of pupils of all classes coming to them, and quite able to pay for their lessons … I shall send two missionary Fathers to Tingha some time next year when I can get them to come, to give a Mission there. They will do an immense deal of good, and there the good Sisters will perpetuate the work as they have done are still doing at Uralla under similar circumstances. A few days later the bishop wrote again to M. Bernard, promising to have the cottage properly prepared (9 December 1890) for the Sisters, also school fittings, and suggesting that the Sisters bring things with them from Inverell to Tingha as they may want them there: “Regarding school books, maps, apparatus etc. for the school, it would be more convenient if you could provide them from Sydney to start with and let me have the bill for the amount. I will gladly pay for them. “ Towards the end of 1891 the bishop assisted in acquiring the cottage from the owner by borrowing from the bank in the name of the Sisters, to be repaid to him later. Mother Mary visited Tingha convent and school in May 1896 and reported as follows: “No household bills to pay as the Sisters pay for everything as they get it. This convent consists of six rooms and detached kitchen and refectory. It is our own property, the deeds are in Quirindi Bank. The piano is our own and paid for. The Oratory furniture including Chalice, Pyx and Ciborium is community property. The house is poor, everything in it poor but clean, bedding warm and good, sheeting well worn and mended. Sisters have warm clothing and good boots and stockings. All are well and very happy and united. The Rule is well kept. There was no Book of Constitutions, so I left them ours. Study is well kept up.”
Foundations after 1902The year 1902 was the year in which Mary MacKillop suffered a stroke and after that event negotiations were carried on between the Congregation General Council, North Sydney and priests requesting sisters for their parish schools after the death of Bishop Torreggiani in 1904. Thus, parishes such as Bingara (1902 -79), Walgett (1902 -94), Warialda (1904 – ), Manilla (1904-87), Bundarra (1908-65), and Wee Waa (1909 -) where the sisters responded to requests, may be listed in summary without detail. It is sufficient to say that Mary MacKillop’s daughters kept the flame of her spirit alight beyond her lifetime into other places in the Armidale diocese such as Barraba (1910 – 87), Boggabri (1911 -), Dungowan (1930 -66), Tamworth South (I 954 – ), Tamworth West (1 919 -92), Werris Creek (I 914 – 85).
Current situation (1999)The sisters returned to Narrabri in 1970 after an absence of some eighty years, and it is the only parochial school in the diocese where a Sister of St Joseph is presently teaching. The remaining foundations where the sisters reside at present are Boggabri, Glen Innes, Quirindi, Tamworth South, Walgett, Warialda, Wee Waa, Werris Creek and more recently, Lightening Ridge (1980), Attunga (1995), Mungindi (1995). In these parishes the sisters are presently engaged in visiting people in their homes, in pastoral work, and/or Confraternity of Christian Doctrine as travelling catechists and/or consultants, preparing children for the sacraments. The newest directions are networking in the diocese, the ‘Seasons for Growth’ program, designed to address grief and loss suffered by children, and working with the Sisters of Mercy at Gunnedah in a Spirituality & Retreat Centre. Both Bishop Torreggiani and Mary MacKillop shared the same convictions concerning the needs of catholic education for children in the remote parishes of the Armidale diocese. It was this inspired concurrence that truly laid the foundations for the very significant province of the Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph in the northern tablelands of NSW. It has been clearly demonstrated that this institute was naturally suited to what Bishop Torreggiani called his “poor diocese.
ConclusionFor the Sisters of St Joseph, withdrawing from a parish school especially in a rural diocese like Armidale, was always an occasion of deep regret. Over the years there has existed between the sisters and the people in remote areas a particularly strong bond of community. For various reasons these withdrawals were due to the declining numbers of sisters entering the institute after the 1970s, the reduction of enrolments in the schools, the closing of rural industries and the flight of people to the cities. Traditionally, the sisters’ ministry “in justice to the poor” has been constant for over 130 years throughout all provinces. Whatever ministry they have been invited to, they have responded with generosity, ingenuity and enthusiasm, marked by a special kind of compassion for the disadvantaged and/or isolated. For more than 30 years their ministry has become more diversified. Before the 1980s, at least two sisters resided in the parish convent, but since that time it is now accepted that a sister may live alone to remain in a parish to serve the community according to their needs. The sisters have always regarded their evangelising work among people as supplementary to the ministry of priests in the rural areas of the Armidale diocese, in helping to establish Christian communities, furthering the Kingdom of God.
The Christian Brothers were founded in Waterford Ireland in 1802 by Edmond Ignatius Rice who was beatified in Rome in 1996.He was a wealthy committed Catholic, businessman noted for his charity towards the poor. The death of his wife shortly after the birth of a handicapped daughter was a catalyst in his life. It deepened his spirituality which made him more aware of the needs of the marginalised especially young boys who lacked education in faith, literacy, numeracy and often lacked the basic necessities of life. He established schools for these boys despite the fact he had no teacher training and was in his early forties. Gradually other men, often businessmen like himself, joined him inspired by his charity and compassion. Other schools spread rapidly throughout Ireland. Edmund believed in good order and discipline in his schools but did not subscribe to the harsh methods used at the time. The teaching of the Catholic religion in his schools was for him of great importance. He saw education as a means of helping the marginalised out of their poverty. Opposition fro the laity, clergy and even from a few of his own Brothers never caused him to waver in his deep faith. He stressed that spirit of the Congregation was that of faith. By the time of his death in 1844 his considerable fortune had been spent in establishing schools. In his own life time schools had been set up in England, up and by the turn of the century schools were founded in America, India, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. The Brothers are now actively involved in Third World Countries and have been blest with a good harvest of vocations. The Brothers see Edmund Rice as a model for lay people – he was married, a successful business man, loved his God and gave himself up completely to follow God’s call to teach.
FounderDOMINIC GUZMAN was born in Calaroga (Castile) about 1170 and died in Bologna on August 6th 1221. He was “apprenticed” to his priest uncle at Gumiel d’Izan and went to the Cathedral school at Palencia. He was ordained to the priesthood and began life in the community of priests at the Cathedral of Osma (as a canon of St Augustine). In 1204 he undertook a diplomatic mission on behalf of the King of Spain, and was appalled and depressed by the ignorance and decadence that was destroying Catholic faith in Europe – especially in the south of France. At that time there were thousands of people throughout Europe who, thoroughly disedified by the greed and worldliness of many of the bishops and the clergy, were persuaded that ALL material was evil in itself and created by the devil. And so they also believed that it would be quite unworthy of God to have direct contact with humans. Dominic realized that the only way to destroy such ideas was to replace them with better ones. It was precisely to promote the TRUE understanding of God’s relationship with us, that he formed his first “preaching brothers” in 1215-1216.
Explanation and pictorial representation of logo/symbol of the order(Parish Library)
Establishment and Movement in the Diocese1951 – Dominican Fathers start to appear in new England on the “Rosary Crusade”, and also give missions and retreats around the diocese. 1954 – Bishop Doody invites the Dominican order to supply a chaplain for the university. Fr tom Fitzgerald OP was appointed the first chaplain. 1967 – At the invitation of Bishop Doody, the building of St Albert’s College gets underway. 1969 – Saturday 7th June at 3.00 pm: St Albert’s is officially opened and blessed by Bishop Freeman.
Contribution to the DioceseThe first Dominican Fathers came to the Armidale diocese to promote amongst the parishes, a true and helpful approach to God and his dealings with us and our world. From 1954 onwards, this has been done mainly in the context of Catholic life within the University of New England. And yet, not exclusively so – for 45 years people from “town” have taken advantage of university chaplaincy activities. They are most welcome to continue to take part!
Concluding StatementNew England is, in population terms, a small diocese. But the health or otherwise of Catholic faith and observance here, affects Christian life well beyond the boundaries of New England and indeed well beyond the boundaries of Australia itself. Fr Laurence Foote O.P. St Albert’s College, University of New England. ARMIDALE NSW 2351
IntroductionThe Order of Dominic, to which we belong, arose for the defence of orthodoxy in the thirteenth century.
Our FounderThe Dominican Order, the Order of Preachers, was founded by a Spanish Canon Regular, Dominic de Guzman in the Thirteenth Century. His Order was confirmed during the successive papacies of Innocent III and Honorius III during the period 1215-1217. Dominic died on 6th August, 1221 and was canonised by Pope Gregory IX on 31st July, 1234. At the beginning of the thirteenth century European society was undergoing an intellectual revival involving the development in vernacular languages, in trade and commerce, in the growth of national states, in the foundation of cities and of the new universities coming into being within them. There was recognition by many of the need for leadership to preserve society in this intellectual revival, but at this time, little agreement on the method. In this situation Dominic, a member of the Canons Regular at Osma, France, was sent with the Bishop of Osma, Diego d’Acabes, on a diplomatic mission to Denmark. On their way, the Bishop and Dominic, experienced first hand, the beliefs and high organisation of a particular group of the intellectual revival, known as the Albigenses after the location where they were very numerous. The Church authorities had already declared their teaching heretical. From this beginning Dominic worked for the conversation of heretics, gathering around him apostolic workers within this intellectual revival, designing for them new structures, in contrast to those of existing orders, and better suited to the needs of Christian society. These structures allowed members mobility rather than stability, gave priority to study rather than manual work, harmonised the life of the contemplative with the activity of the evangelist, gave democratic election of superiors for a term, rather than their appointment for life, and founded communities in cities rather than in rural areas. To ensure his followers freedom of conscience in the living out of the rule he expressed the principles:
The rule’s laws of themselves do not bind under sin, Dispensation from the rule is part of the rule.This is our founder. The order took Preaching as its ministry, and Truth as its motto. It spread rapidly and today has five branches present in one hundred countries. They are the Dominican Friars numbering 6,500; the Dominican Contemplative Nuns, 4,378; the Dominican Sisters, 36,000; members of Secular Institutes, 600; and the Dominican Laity, 110,000. The first community of Dominican women came from the ranks of the heretics, converted to Catholicism by Dominic, and established by him in a convent at Proville, France in 1206. Our membership of the Dominican Order is that of Dominican Sisters, belonging to the “Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands”. Our numbers are 173 Sisters (152 Australian, 21 Solomonese) – and two Solomonese novices.
The Motto is Truth associated with to contemplate and give to others the fruits of contemplation.First, then, I must tell you that you are wanted very badly here. The children of the upper classes are being educated by Protestants or are not going to any school, and you must come out and put an end to this business. “But, one may ask, ‘What are the nuns who are already established there doing? Why can’t the upper classes go to their school?” I have already answered this question in a letter to my friend Dr Forde, which he will show to you. The schools conducted by the nuns here are intended for the poorer or rather I should say, for the humbler class of people, this professed object debars the children of the rich from attending their schools and hence they go to the Protestant schools. Bishop Murray invited the Dominicans from Kingstown, Ireland to make a foundation in Maitland to take charge of the existing Denominational School, St Johns, and to found a private school, for both day and boarding students, for the middle classes. The first eight Sisters, six Choir Sisters and two Lay Sisters, arrived at Maitland on 10th September, 1867. That there should be two classes of Dominican Sisters, is another distinction arising out of the social classes of the time. In 1955 with great rejoicing the Australian Dominican Sisters removed all such distinction between their members. On 16th September, the Sisters began teaching in St John’s Denominational School, Maitland which for sometime had been conducted by the Misses Healy. The Sisters in 1873 opened a house in Newcastle, and then in 1876 one in Tamworth, all three in the Maitland Diocese. In 1887, the boundary of the Armidale Diocese was extended to include Tamworth, resulting in its jurisdiction passing from Bishop Murray to Bishop Torreggiani.
Contribution to the DioceseThe Tamworth Pioneer group numbered only four Sisters, two Choir Sisters and two Lay Sisters, and the living and teaching conditions at Tamworth were more primitive than those of Maitland. As in Maitland, a Denominational School, St Nicholas’, existed in Tamworth, which until the Sisters arrived, was conducted by the Misses Cunningham and their brother, Michael. Unlike Maitland, there was no school building in Tamworth, where St Nicholas Church was also the school room. On 4th September, 1995 Bishop Kevin Manning authorised the Director of Catholic Education, Mr Kevin Hazel to establish the Tamworth and District Planning Committee to examine the Tamworth Catholic Education System and make recommendations concerning its future. The Planning Committee met monthly during 1996 and 1997, and recommended to the Bishop’s Commission for Catholic Schools:
That Our Lady of the Rosary College and McCarthy Catholic Senior High School form one school in 1998….A Steering Committee is currently working to implement this recommendation.
Direction of Religious Order in context of the Diocese.The above story of the Major contributions of the Dominicans to education in Tamworth is now legend as all these schools are now administered and staffed by laity. Note the cycle of characteristics of Catholic Education over the century: Lay Staffed and Co-ed – Religious Staffed and Co-ed – Religious and Lay Staffed and Single Sex – Lay Staffed and Co-ed. Today the Tamworth Catholic Schools are Diocesan and entirely Lay Administered and Staffed.
Concluding Statement.Our Congregation is not Diocesan. In Eastern Australia we have Sisters in ten dioceses with ten Sisters in the Armidale Diocese: 6 in Tamworth, 2 in Tingha and 2 in Ashford. All were teachers and now are in Pastoral Work, the majority in Parishes on a voluntary basis. I’ll conclude with a quote from one of the Tingha Sisters concerning her retirement in a priestless rural town. Within the parish it gives me pleasure to pass on to our readers tips from my dramatic studies to more effectively proclaim the Word. Also satisfying is to hand on the knowledge gained from the broad spectrum of my theological studies, so much of which was directed towards empowering the laity. Particularly satisfying, 1 find, is being able to supply an historical explanation to something concerned with tradition or the background to a scriptural passage. Great interest is always evoked.
ReferencesAnnals of St Dominic’s Priority, Tamworth O’Hanlon, M. Assumpta, Dominican Pioneers in New South Wales, The Australasian Publishing Co. Sydney. 1949. (Pat Thompson op 1.5.1999)
ROMAN UNION OF THE ORDER OF ST URSULADIOCESE OF ARMIDALE
INTRODUCTIONIn 1882 a new chapter was about to be added to the history of Armidale with the arrival of a group of exiled Ursuline nuns from Duderstadt in Germany. They came to a land far different from where they had formerly lived, and to a small Australian town the like of which they certainly had never seen before. They described it as “a small bush town, without gas, without railway or any of the conveniences of civilised life”. In their new home the seasons were upside down, the land was parched and brown for many months of the year, the great feast of Easter came in autumn and the familiar sights of snow and holly were noticeably absent from Christmas celebrations. They had been invited by Bishop Elzear Torreggiani to come to Armidale, to help in the establishment of Catholic Education facilities in the diocese, and they brought with them the centuries old culture of Europe and the long traditions of the Ursuline Order. They would spend the rest of their lives bringing the “refinements of education and of civilised life ” to the city which became the first home of the Ursuline religious in Australia.
FOUNDRESSOn 25 November, 1535, a small group of 28 women and girls gathered in an oratory in a private home in the northern Italian city of Brescia. Led by Angela Merici, well known throughout the city for her charity and her exemplary life as a Franciscan tertiary, they attended Mass and then signed their names in the ‘Book of the Company of St Ursula’. By this they signified their willingness to commit themselves to God, living according to the rule drawn up for them by Angela and which she had submitted to the bishop for approbation. This simple ceremony, which probably caused no more than a ripple on the surface of the strong current of life in Brescia, was the beginning of the Ursuline Order, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became one of the largest and best known religious groups in the Roman Catholic Church. The small event was also a part of the Counter Re-formation, although Angela certainly did not see it as such. For her it was simply a response to the crying needs of her time, and they were many. Angela Merici’s life was shaped by the Italian renaissance, and her generation witnessed one of the great turning points in western civilisation. She was born about 1472 in the small town of Desenzano, a city on the shores of Lake Garda, but the greater part of her adult life was spent in Brescia, which lay on the main route between Milan and Venice. Brescia, called by Dante the ‘Lioness of Italy’, had a long and turbulent history as a bone of contention between Milan and Venice, and at the beginning of the sixteenth century, as a part of the Italian spoils for which Francis 1 and Charles V fought so bitterly. In May 1516, it fell for the last time under the republic of Venice. Angela’s piety was remarkably unobtrusive in comparison with some of the public and more spectacular manifestations of faith which flourished during her lifetime, and this moderation drew many people, both lay and ecclesiastic, to seek guidance from her and to follow her example. There is little reliable information on the early years of Angela’s life. She apparently spent her time in the towns around Lake Garda, including Brescia, Salo and her birthplace Desenzano. She won a reputation as a peacemaker, and spent much of her time consoling and aiding those whose lives were disrupted by the tragedies of war. It was natural that she would emerge as the recognised leader of a number of Brescian women who wished to unite as a group to support one another in their commitment to God and to strengthen the charitable works in which they were engaged. So when Angela gathered the group in 1535, she gave them a simple rule to live by and named the group the Company of St Ursula. The members of the Company were to remain in their homes, dress simply, live devout lives and from their homes exercise an active apostolate by giving religious and secular instruction to the girls and women of Brescia, and by other charitable works. The choice of Ursula, a quasi-mythical saint of the fourth century, as patroness of the Company, was due to her popularity as a patroness of youth and learning, notably as patroness of the Sorbonne in Paris. The story of Ursula and her maiden companions was widespread in Angela’s time. Churches, chapels, stories and paintings all bore witness to the popularity of the saint. Christopher Columbus named the “Virgin Islands” in the Antilles after Ursula and her companions, and Magellan named the point he believed to be the southernmost part of South America, “The Cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins”. In Cologne, the basilica dedicated to St Ursula in the eleventh century also affirms this popular legend and devotion to the present day. Although the formation of the company was a comparatively obscure event, some aspects of it were quite revolutionary in nature. Angela was the first major foundress of an exclusively women’s community and her rule for the company inaugurated a new kind of religious life for women, quite different from the monastic groups in existence at that time. She also realised that change was inevitable and if the company was to be effective it must be flexible and adaptable. She wrote, 1f with change of times and circumstances it becomes necessary to make fresh rules or to alter anything, then do it with prudence after taking good advice”. Cloister, religious dress and many monastic practices all came with time, and in turn were discarded, too, in keeping with this wise guidance. But in spite of such diversity all members of the Order recognise Angela Merici as their foundress and try to live and work according to the essence of her original and unique inspiration.
SYMBOLS1. The Ursuline Coat of Arms is derived from the Ancient Arms of the Ursuline Monastery of Paris 1607, where Henry IV, first King of the House of Bourbon granted it the fleur-de-lys of the royal arms as a pledge of acknowledgement and protection.
i) The first coat (side) represents St Angela and her special vocation.
The fire of love and the halo of glory surrounds the signs of the passion (cross and nails) and the interlaced initials of Jesus and Mary. The triple Fleur-de-Lys (lily) symbolises both the characteristics of Angela (spiritual and virginal motherhood) and the three vows taken by religious.
ii) The second coat (side) represents St Ursula and the Order.
The sturdy laurel tree (the Order) indicates victory and immortality. It grows vigorously on the side of the mountain (the Church). Above is the scroll “Ursula Laurus” (the two words are an anagram of each other) This represents the Order under the patronage of St Ursula and the dove (Holy Spirit) covers the growing branches with its shadow and makes them bearers of life.
iii) The motto: Soli Deo Gloria, ” to God alone give glory” is the resume of St Angela’s work and that of her followers.
iv) The crown recalls both the royal heritage of St Ursula and the reward promised to those ‘Who instruct many unto Justice’ and who are faithful unto death.2. Currently the symbol, which is worn by the religious, is a specially designed crucifix.
i) Ursa Minor, the “little bear” constellation, recalls the name of St Ursula, patron and model of noble effort striving for learning. It also indicates the importance of following guidance, as the stars provide help for travellers to keep on the right path.
ii) The cross is the basic Christian symbol recalling the death and resurrection of Jesus
iii) The motto, “Serviam” (I will serve) calls students to respond to the Gospel message in a spirit of service.
FOUNDATION IN THE ARMIDALE DIOCESE.Early on the morning of 31 August 1882, the sailing ship Duchess of Edinburgh, under the command of Captain Peter, arrived in Sydney at the end of a fourteen week journey from England, having left Greenwich on 24 May. On board were ten sisters from the Ursuline Convent in the Hanoverian town of Duderstadt, accompanied by two postulants and an aspirant, Mademoiselle Cecile de Percevale. The sisters, who had been living in Greenwich since their expulsion from Germany in 1877, had been invited by Bishop Elzear Torreggiani to come to Armidale, the centre of his vast diocese in the northern half of New South Wales, to help in the establishment of Catholic Education facilities in the diocese. The annalist wrote:
We felt instinctively that our feet were about to tread strange, new paths; that a future lay before us, more wondrous than we ever dreamed of when we pronounced our Vows in the quaint old city of Duderstadt expecting to live and die within the calm seclusion of the Convent walls. (Annals)On 5 September, Bishop Torreggiani arrived in Sydney to meet the sisters. They attended the opening ceremony of St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney on 8 September and on the evening of 11 September they set off by boat for Newcastle where, the next morning, they boarded the train for Uralla. As this was as far as the train line extended, a stage-coach carried them on the last leg of the journey to Armidale where they were welcomed by the bishop, priests and a group of parishioners on the evening of 12 September, 1882. Thus ended a long journey which had begun in Germany in 1877. Conflict between church and state in Germany, had led in May 1873, to the introduction of a series of laws relating to education. By these laws all teaching orders were to be dissolved or expelled and their property confiscated, while education passed under the control of the state. This was a death blow to the Ursulines of Duderstadt. They sought refuge in England and after an intense search over a period of several weeks, they found a suitable house for the community at Greenwich. While they were searching for their home, the two sisters went to visit the superior of the Capuchin Fathers in London, Father Elzear Torreggiani, of whose missionary zeal they had heard a great deal. Although there was nothing this priest could do for them at that time, he promised that if he ever had an opportunity to help them in any way he would do so. In 1880 in New South Wales, the Public Instruction Act was passed and this marked the end of government funding for denominational schools. In order to maintain Catholic schools bishops sought assistance from the religious orders in Australia and in Europe. Back in Armidale, in 1881, Bishop Torreggiani completed arrangements for the purchase of Mr Peter Speare’s “fine property in Jessie Street which, it was stated, “he intended to devote to the purposes of a convent.” He remembered the exiled Ursuline sisters he had met in London in 1877, and found time to write to them, inviting them 1o exchange their present cramped quarters for a more spacious home and a wider field of labour under the Southern sky.” By early 1882 when it was known that the Ursuline sisters had accepted the Bishop’s invitation, and in anticipation of the fact that ‘a large number of lady boarders’ would come to Armidale to be educated by ‘those whose fame for teaching had spread far and wide’, plans were drawn up for extensions to the building. School began on 19 September with 16 pupils. Pupils for music, painting, languages and other subjects “pertaining to higher education” came in such numbers that it became a daily problem where to accommodate them. The boarding school opened before the end of 1882.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE DIOCESE
St Ursula’s College Armidale:In response to the invitation of Bishop Torreggiani, the Ursulines established in Armidale a “High School for Young Ladies”. St Ursula’s College, a boarding and day school for girls was owned and conducted by the Ursuline nuns from 1882 to 1977. At the time of its closure it listed among its former pupils many members of the professional, cultural and educational sectors of the Australian society. There were also many less well known women living happy creative, Christian lives because of the education they had received from the Ursulines.
St Mary’s School Armidaleis a parish school which has been conducted by the Ursuline nuns since 1883. It was established by the Diocese in 1852 and was conducted by lay teachers until the Ursuline sisters took responsibility for it. For some years it included junior secondary classes. When the Patrician Brothers, and later the De La Salle Brothers, arrived they took responsibility for the education of Primary School boys and the school was divided into two parts, St Mary’s Infants (co-educational) and Primary Girls School, which was conducted by the Ursulines, and St Mary’s Boys School, which was conducted by the Brothers. This situation continued until the 1970’s when the Brothers withdrew and the boys again joined the girls. The school then reverted to its former name, St Mary’s School.
O’Connor Catholic High School Armidale.In 1974 the De la Salle Brothers, who since 1906 had conducted a day and boarding school for boys in Armidale indicated that they would have to close the school as fewer brothers were available and the financial burden of conducting the school was becoming too great. As this meant that there would be no Catholic secondary schooling available to boys in Armidale, it was decided to establish a co-educational Catholic High School by merging the De La Salle College and St Ursula’s College. The staff from each of the former colleges combined to staff the newly formed high school and the administration was shared by Ursulines and De la Salle Brothers until 1994. Ursulines continued to teach in the school until 1998, thus making a continuous contribution to Catholic secondary schooling in Armidale for 116 years.
St Mary of the Angels School Guyra.At the request of Bishop O’Connor, the Ursulines opened a parish school in Guyra in 1919. In 1922 high school classes were added and as there was no State High School in the town, St Mary of the Angels School provided High School education for Protestant and Catholic alike. This continued until 1958 when students were able to attend either the Guyra Central school or travel by bus to Armidale. A smaller school needed a smaller religious community and this made the observance of the Ursuline religious life at that time more difficult. The Ursulines withdrew from the school at the end of 1969. The Sisters of Mercy from Monte Sant ‘Angelo, Sydney accepted an invitation to take up responsibility for the school from that time.
Other Catholic Education Services:
Religion by LetterIn 1935, Bishop Coleman blessed a new project: RELIGION BY LETTER. This was a program which enrolled children of the outlying districts, especially those who would be unable to attend a Catholic School, and prepared them for the sacraments. The program was based on Archbishop Sheehan’s Primer of Religion, “Religion by Letter” and “A Child’s Book of Religion”. The work of organising, distributing and correcting the lessons was entrusted to the Ursulines. By 1953 the total number of students who had been enrolled was 4227. The number of children who received this instruction by post in 1953 alone was 465. The program provided instruction not only for children, but incidentally, for their parents as well. This program continued until the 1960s when road transport became more accessible and schools were more available to students.
Catholic Schools OfficeSince 1989 an Ursuline sister has contributed assistance to the Catholic Schools Office in the administration of its schools.
Future DirectionsWhen they came to Australia one hundred and seventeen years ago, the Ursuline Sisters faced problems which, at times, must have seemed insuperable. Both the physical and social environments were strange, and the sisters were expected to help establish an education system which to many seemed doomed from the outset. The Ursulines of today face major problems but of a different sort. The physical environment might be familiar but the rate of change of the social context blurs the goals which were so clear in 1882. The Catholic School system has in a sense, been so successful that it has generated its own momentum, and its survival depends, not on the presence of religious, but on external factors such as government funding and public support. Entrants to religious orders are few in our times and, in many places, near empty buildings bring their own problems of non-use and maintenance. But Ursuline sisters are optimistic and energetic in their attempts to redefine their role and give their considerable talents and abilities to the new and diverse areas of need in the Australian society and the Australian Catholic Church. Australia is still the ‘Land of Promise’ for many others who, like the refugees from Duderstadt who established the first Ursuline Convent in Armidale in 1882, continue doing the work which seems most appropriate for them as followers of Angela Merici at the beginning of another new century.
References:1. Kneipp, P, “This Land of Promise: The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882 -1982,’, UNE history series 1982. 2. “Ursuline Tradition and Progress” : Ursulines of the Roman Union, USA, 1950. 3. “Annals of the Ursuline Convent Armidale (unpublished).
No further information has been provided at this stage.