In 1868 four Christian Brothers embarked at Liverpool in England on board the sailing ship Donald McKay for the long journey to Melbourne. These were Brs Ambrose Treacy, Fursey Bodkin, Barnabas Lynch and J.P. Nolan. Br Nolan was a non-teaching Brother,a carpenter by trade, who might assist with whatever building was necessary.
After having arrived at Station Pier they traveled by cab to Bishop Gould’s House where they were welcomed warmly. They found temporary residence in a hotel on the corner of Brunswick St, just up at the next intersection. They attended Sunday Mass at St Francis Church in Elizabeth Street where their presence caused quite a commotion among the Catholic population as, in addition to the promise of a Christian Brothers’ school, they bought news from England and Ireland.
They visited a range of Catholic schools with an invitation to take over any one of them. They opted to take over the most central one operating in the hall immediately behind St Francis Church in the city. The building was quickly renovated and divided into two rooms and the new school opened in January 1869 with a full house of 200 students in 2 classrooms. However, Br Treacy’s vision was for a much larger and permanent school and he set about finding a suitable site, choosing the property we are now standing on.
It is worth noting that when the Brothers arrived Melbourne was developing into a prosperous and potentially large city. The gold rushes in Ballarat and Bendigo were in full swing and agricultural progression was well advanced, both of these bringing great prosperity and rapidly increasing population to the colony.
However, there were problems for the Brothers from the beginning. An earlier invitation to the Brothers to set up schools in Sydney in 1843 had failed and the Brothers returned to Ireland after a few years because the Bishop of Sydney wanted them to become Benedictines. This time they had in advance a written agreement with the Bishop of Melbourne, Dr Gould, promising them a place to live and financial assistance to build a school. When they arrived they found that Dr Gould had, in fact, no money at all available for them and the Brothers had to start their own fund-raising efforts to build the new school and residence. Thus, they set about door-knocking in all parts of Melbourne after school each day, and undertook long journeys into country Victoria and beyond in the school holidays to seek donations for the new building. At one stage Br Bodkin was washed off his horse while crossing a flooded river in Northern Victoria. They did this collecting while teaching at the St Francis school. They got little response from the clergy or from wealthier Catholics, but the ordinary people supported the Brothers strongly and the money was gradually raised.
It may be surprising to note that Catholic schools existed in the colony at this time. They did so because financial aid from the colonial government was still available to religious schools. They were small and charged fees beyond the means of the ordinary people. But the Brothers arrived at a very opportune time because the forces favouring a complete secularization of education were gathering strength in the colonies. In Victoria in 1867, the year before the Brothers arrived, a Bill for secularization of education was narrowly defeated. In 1871 the “free, secular and compulsory education” Act won the day, such that no religious teaching could take place in funded schools. The Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy proved that an education with religious values could be delivered for the poorer people without the help of state aid.
By July 1870 £2000 had been collected to allow the purchase of this property. The new school was commissioned for £8000 and work began. In 1870 Br Hughes and a second Brother arrived to help in the school and allowed Br Lynch to be free for fund raising. The school was ready for business at the start of the 1871 school year and, as the boys marched up in procession from St Francis School on Monday 30 January 1871, Parade College was born, and the Christian Brothers established in Australia.
Pressure was put on the Brothers to open even more schools. They were soon asked to take over St Vincents Boys Home in South Melbourne and Br Lynch took the role as Director in 1871. Br Bodkin moved on to set up school and a novitiate in Richmond in 1875 and then a school Dunedin in New Zealand in 1876. Br Butler served 4 years as Principal of Parade College and went on to found St Augustine’s Boys Home in Geelong in 1878. CBC St Kilda was also founded in 1878 and Br Hughes, after a period of rest, was called back to be Principal in 1881. This meant that the collecting of money needed to continue in all the school holidays and the begging journeys continued for many years.
Further schools were founded in quick succession – Abbotsford and Ballarat, both in 1893, and Warrnambool, Carlton and West Melbourne all in 1902, St Joseph’s North Melbourne in 1903, South Melbourne 1905, Fitzroy 1910, Hobart 1911, Clifton Hill and Middle Park 1916, St Kevin’s College in East Melbourne 1918 as well as St Monica’s, Moonee Ponds. After World War 1, the work continued. St Joseph’s College in Geelong opened in 1935 and St Bernard’s College, Essendon in 1940. The vision in Tasmania spread to 3 schools in Hobart, 2 in Launceston, and one each in Devonport and Cygnet.
With the huge increase in Catholic population after World War II the Brothers became involved in the Regional School program, secondary schools which were set up by and belonged to a group of parishes. The Brothers agreed to run a number of these schools for the first decade or so until they were well established, and then hand them over to lay staff through the Catholic Education Office. These included St Thomas More, Blackburn, Aquinas College, Ringwood, Trinity College, Colac, and Thierry College, Broadmeadows.
The arrival of Brother Treacy and his companions in 1868 set in motion a succession of waves of development of Christian Brothers schools in Victoria and Tasmania and these schools were a very significant part of the development of the Catholic Education system in southern Australia.
Content by: Dr Denis Moore CFC, Principal Parade College Bundoora, Victoria