Fr Tom Boland, eminent historian, described Queensland of the 1870’s as the “immigrant colony, the colony of the future. This meant a frontier society unorganised, crude in comparison with the more settled South, pragmatic to the point of materialism. The hope of the future lay in the colony’s schools and educationalists battled with politicians and business leaders for a civilizing as well as a developing force in the kind of system and curriculum provided. “
The 1860’s Grammar Schools Act and the Department of Public Instruction established in 1875 effectively undercut the Catholic schools. Hence, the Roman Catholic Church was committed to a totally alternative system in which instruction for life and living was permeated by Christian faith and practice.
It was this context which welcomed the Christian Brothers through the vision and leadership of Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy. 1875 saw the establishment of St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace. This was followed by St Joseph’s Nudgee College (1891); St Edmund’s College, Ipswich (1892); St James College, Brisbane (already operating as a school with lay staff since 1868) (1893). Over time the following colleges were established: 1915, St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane: St Joseph’s Nudgee Junior College, Indooroopilly (1938); St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon (1940); St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe (1952); Ignatius Park College, Townsville (1969); Centre Education Program, Kingston (1986); and Nudgee International College (1996).
1967 witnessed the establishment of St Francis Xavier Province. By 1968, the Christian Brothers were responsible for 27 schools in Queensland, caring for a student enrolment of 11,500 with a combined staff of 300 teachers, 180 of those being Brothers. The Brothers’ Educational Apostolate was conducted in two types of schools – those aforementioned being owned by the Brothers, and those owned by the Diocese but administered by the Brothers. These schools were established in: Mt Isa, Abergowrie, Ingham, Charters Towers, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Gympie, Southport, Warwick, Toowoomba and Dalby. Over time, these schools returned to Catholic Education Authorities.
A number of significant issues arose in the early years. One of the earliest issues was the equitable distribution of money from the sale of Minto. An allied problem in the early days of the Province was the sharing of personnel with the Sydney Province. With profound changes in society and in the church, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Brothers withdrawing from the congregation. This was the beginning of the fall in membership in the Province, the numbers going from 250 in the 1970’s to 99 in 2007. The decline in the number of Brothers coincided with an increase in the number of students applying for enrolment in schools. Congregational policy was opposed to co-education, and some forms of co-instruction were grudgingly permitted.
Strategies to support the formation of young men for the Christian Brothers included the establishment of the Novitiate at Helidon and Xavier Teachers’ College at Indooroopilly. Focus on Religious Education within the school apostolate witnessed an increasing emphasis on education of school staff in the spirit of Edmund Rice. In the 1980’s, Br Vic Larkin, using the icon designed by Desmond Kyne, did remarkable work in inducting the teachers into an understanding of Edmund Rice’s values and concerns. This icon in many respects is now the public face of the Brothers.
As education became more complex, strategies were initiated which eventually led to the creation of an excellent Educational Directorate servicing and sustaining all the Edmund Rice schools in Queensland. The appointment of Br Liam Regan as Primary School Coordinator and Br Barry Buckley as Secondary School Consultant led to the emergence of the Christian Brothers’ Resource Team, initially directed by Br Vince Connors. The transition from this group to Edmund Rice Educational Services through to Edmund Rice Educational Directorate has created a wide educational vision not only guiding mainstream schools but promoting Flexible Learning Centres for students whose needs are not being met in the usual school environment, supporting a Montessori Preschool Centre at Nudgee Junior, and including St Leo’s at the university with this ambit.
The word ‘missionary’ usually conjures up an image of a dedicated person working in a foreign culture. It is true to say that every Brother in the Province in Queensland in the North Region has been on a mission, endeavouring to live the charism of Edmund Rice and bring people to a knowledge and love of God.
The wider missionary thrust of Brothers from the North Region is reflected in their connection with the St Benedict’s Training College in the Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Br Boniface Sheriff was moved to work with the indigenous people of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Although the Provincial Chapter of 1971 had decreed that there be no further expansion, the challenge from the former Superior General, Br Austin Loftus, persisted: ‘When there are few men, that is the time to expand and trust in God’. Under the leadership of Br Regis Hickey, connections were made with the Tiwi people on Bathurst Island and then the community at Wadeye, Port Keats. Br Vince Roche has spent more than 20 years in Wadeye, becoming a much appreciated presence. The establishment of an indigenous ministry unit at the Province and persistence with the Murgon – Cherbourg project continues this mission.
Internationally, Br Ambrose Purcell led the drive to South Africa, while Br Dan Courtney and Br Patrick Payne, now replaced by Br Bill Tynan, have led the charge in East Timor. Most recently, Br Neil Langan has set up a community at Kabankalan on Negros Island in the Central Philippines.
And the future? Br Robert Jeffrey Fredericks, scholar and poet, reflected thus:
The autumn leaves must fall,
Their time has come to bid adieu
To all that they have been.
In thankfulness I gaze, in gazing, ask
that I may learn a lesson from the leaves.
Our lessons from the past have been rich indeed. With energy and optimism we look forward to participating in the creation of our spring – our future.
Content by: Mr Daryl Hanly, Principal - St Joseph’s Nudgee College Boondall, Queensland
(Mr Daryl Hanly is greatly indebted to the work of Br Regis Hickey CFC, and his text, “Forty Willing Years”, from which he has taken a significant amount of content )