It seems fairly certain that the notion of opening a school in NSW would have been made personally known to Blessed Edmund. The Benedictine Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding, was keen for Brothers to come to Sydney to establish Catholic schooling for boys, and so it was that three Brothers, Stephen Carroll, Peter Scannell and Francis Larkin arrived in March 1843.
Despite already existing foreign missions in Gibraltar and England, the mission to Sydney was a whole world away from Ireland. The Brothers set up three schools, one still standing (St Brigid’s at Millers Point). The other two were in Macquarie Street, Sydney and Abercrombie Street near Broadway.
We know they stayed for only four years and then fled back to Ireland. The cause of this seems to lie in the actions of Abbot Gregory, Vicar General to Archbishop Polding. The Abbot informed the Brothers that they would have to become more affiliated to the Benedictine rule. Even a novice joining the Brothers, would be trained in Benedictine practice. This was clearly too much and (to borrow an ‘Un-Irish’ term) they took their bat and ball, upped stumps and returned home (Perhaps that’s an Indian phrase).
One of their number, Francis Larkin, taught a young Pat Treacy in Thurles, Ireland and it was as Br Ambrose Treacy, he led the second wave of Brothers to Australia in It was to be another 20 years before the Brothers returned to Sydney. It could well be that the English Benedictine era ended with the arrival of Cardinal Moran from Ireland in 1884 and that the Irish Brothers felt confident that they could return to New South Wales. By 1887, the Brothers were well established in Melbourne, Adelaide, Dunedin (NZ) and Brisbane and it seemed logical, and safe, that Br Ambrose Treacy could turn his attention to New South Wales.
And so schools were opened in Balmain (1887), 2 schools in Lewisham in 1889 along with Newtown. Then Rozelle (1892), and Goulburn 1898). The Novitiate was established at Petersham and New South Wales was chosen as the headquarters of the Brothers in Australia from 1897.
The establishment of a Novitiate for native born Australians was a huge leap forward. It seems that the Irish believed that vocations would not come to the Brothers in Australia because “the young men are more interested in cricket, football and swimming.” Eventually this was shown to be wrong. (But then again today would perhaps suggest otherwise).
New South Wales continued to be the headquarters of the Brothers in Australia for a further 56 years. In 1908, it was shifted to Strathfield and this place became synonymous with the Brothers Australasian organisation.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a further opening of schools: Waverley 1903 – with its branch schools at Edgecliffe, Paddington and St Charles. Other Brothers began teaching at St Mary’s Cathedral in 1911 and Darlinghurst in 1916.
In 1914 a significant move occurred with the opening of St Michael’s Wagga. This was especially significant because, apart from Goulburn, all the schools had been in Sydney. The call of rural areas was heard firstly at Wagga and then 1917 Albury, 1925 Tamworth & Young, 1926 Wollongong. These schools provided great opportunities for the boys from then country areas. At around this same time, new schools were opened at Strathfield in 1928 & Manly in 1929.
After Rose Bay (1935) and Chatswood (1937), the most significant opening was the Training College at Minto in 1939. This was designed to provide a Novitiate for over 40 young men from Australia and New Zealand. Most years, it was near full and so other schools were able to be opened. Special schools for the Deaf (St Gabriel’s 1922) and the Blind (St Edmund’s 1951) were established.
In the second half of the 20th century, the development continued through St Edward’s Gosford (1953), St Edmund’s Canberra,ACT(1954), Inveralochy Agricultural College 1954, Waitara and Sutherland in 1956, Penrith in 1959. Mulgoa was purchased in 1958 as a Training College for young men. With regionalization occurring in Sydney, the Brothers took over schools at Bondi Beach and Bondi Junction and opened St Paul’s College at Kempsey in 1965.
The story from 1965 could partly be summed up as follows:
More recently, even from within the school scene, we have been involved in supplying leadership and Brothers to work in Moree and Walgett so returning to ministering to the rural areas of New South Wales and in something, as new as this very week, Br Chris Peel has become the Principal of the Hennessy Catholic High School in Young
Perhaps the NSW experience and history could be over simply, but symbolically summarized by the interesting fact that this new EREA enterprise we are launching at this time, has as it’s executive director a strong man educated at St.Paul’s Kempsey situated on the mid north coast of NSW.
Content by: Br Jeff Regan CFC, Principal St Dominic’s College Penrith, New South Wales