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School childrenFrom the very beginning of their time in Australia,
the Sisters of Charity recognized the importance of being involved
in the education of young children. Mary Aikenhead was obviously
aware of this as she sent, with the first five Sisters, a written
method of teaching given to her by the Christian Brothers in
Ireland. The Christian Brothers were extremely skilled in teaching
and also generous in sharing tried and tested methods of
educating. These notes proved invaluable in the training of the
early Sisters in Australia. As a result it was not surprising that
Schools and Education became a very significant apostolate within
the Congregation here.

In 1858, the Sisters founded the first primary school at Tarmons,
Potts Point. Known as St Vincent's, it received full Government
approval in 1861, which meant that the sisters and trainee
teachers under their direction all received a salary. Likewise, the
Government paid for equipment, books and other necessities. The
first two Principals Sister Alphonsus Unsworth and Sister Aloysius
Raymond set the school on a firm foundation but both regrettably
died at an early age. When Mother Francis McGuigan took over
the school in 1865, she brought new energy and vision and the
school continued to thrive along with the secondary school added
to it in 1870.

Over the next hundred years, many more primary schools came
under the care of the Sisters of Charity. In each state, several were
founded by the Sisters of Charity but were later closed or were
handed over to another religious congregation. Those that
remained 'Charity schools' until taken over by the Catholic
Education Office in the last part of the 20th century, included:

New South Wales

1878     St Mary's Liverpool
1879     St Joseph's Edgecliff
1883     St Vincent's Ashfield
 St Mary's Concord
 Sacred Heart
         Darlinghurst
 St Mary's Cathedral
 St Thomas' Lewisham
 St
         Francis' Paddington

1886     St Mary's Hurstville
         St Columkille's Wooloomooloo
1890     St Canice's Elizabeth Bay
1892     St John's Auburn
1895     St Patrick's Mortlake
1900     St Canice's Katoomba
1924     St Ambrose's Concord West
1929     St Raphael's South Hurstville
1935     Sacred Heart Cabramatta
1939     St Thomas More's Brighton Le Sands
1952     Our Lady of Mt Carmel Mt Pritchard
1958     Stella Maris Shellharbour
1962     St Joseph the Worker South Auburn
         Holy Trinity Curtin ACT
1967
Tasmania

18
       St Joseph's Hobart
47
19
       St Brigid's New Norfolk
26
19
       Mt Carmel Sandy Bay
42
Victoria

18
       St Patrick's Fitzroy
89
18
       St John's East Melbourne
90
18
       St Joseph's Collingwood
91
18
       St John's Clifton Hill
94
18
       St Monica's Essendon / Moonee Ponds
95
19
       St Therese's Essendon
23
19     St Vincent de Paul's Strathmore
37
19
      St Christopher's Airport West
61
19    St Francis de Sales' Oak Park
62
19
      Sancta Sophia Gelnroy
67
19    St Peter's East Keilor
 Sacred Heart Diamond
71    Creek
 Our Lady Help of Christians

19
      St Leo the Great Altona North
74
Queensland

19
      St Finbarr's Ashgrove
24
19
      St Mary's Kingaroy
29
19
      Maer Dei St John's Wood
51
19
      Notre Dame Cooparoo
52
19
      St Peter Chanel's The Gap
72
1988 was to prove a real watershed within the Congregation. It
was the Sesqui Centenary of the Sisters' arrival in Australia and
the Bi-centenary of white settlement in our country. Within the
Church also, 1988 saw the effects of Vatican II surfacing strongly
and these impacted dramatically on Religious life. The Sisters
were no longer able to staff the great number of Primary Schools
that they had opened to meet the needs of the Catholic population
in previous years. Many of the smaller schools were handed over
and competent lay Principals gradually emerged to take Catholic
Education into the future. This was not an easy progression and
the Catholic Education Office found it necessary to introduce
training programs for lay teachers who wished to become leaders
in the system.

In the 1970s leadership development programs, set up by a Sister
of Charity within the Catholic Education Office, together with the
confidence and trust placed in the lay men and women by
Religious, who so generously encouraged their development,
certainly provided excellent training for lay leadership within the
Catholic School System. Lay Principals would be the first to admit
that Religious Principals, with whom they had previously worked,
were used by them as a model in their later position of Principal.
The position of Senior Primary Teacher was the first administrative
position to be introduced. This was seen as a step towards taking
on the position of Principal at a later date. At the same time the
Sisters took on the extra responsibility of Religious Education co-
ordinators. Many lay teachers had come through a time of
confusion within the Church, felt insecure in their teaching of
Religion and needed assistance with this important task. Yet the
passing on of the faith was the reason for the very existence of the
Catholic School system. As late as 1994 Dr Charles Burford in
address at a Conference in Adelaide stated:

             "Unless Christ lives in our curriculum there
                is no justification for our existence!"


In 1989 Pope John Paul II issued a clarion call to the 'lay faithful' to
take an active and responsible part in the mission of the Church.
However, the lay teachers were not yet ready to handle the
responsibility of Principal in the bigger schools and so the Sisters
found themselves in charge of very large Primary Schools. In the
intervening years the expertise of the lay Principals has grown,
through the responsibilities and extra studies they have
undertaken and they now have competently assumed role of
Principal in the bigger schools.

So what might have been seen as a disaster became a very
freeing movement within the Congregation. Each State was
different. Within NSW the Directors of Catholic Education in the
Archdiocese of Sydney and the dioceses of Parramatta and
Wollongong were far seeing in their introduction of the position of
'extra Religious' into the schools. The Sisters will be forever
grateful for this. They were no longer burdened with the
expectation of accepting a leadership position beyond their
capabilities or desire while at the same time it was possible for
them to remain in the schools. Neither were they obliged to take on
the responsibility of classroom teaching. Instead they occupied
positions which gave them far greater freedom and opportunity to
relate to families on a much more personal level. As a result
Sisters found themselves able to do group work with parents
and/or children, attend home visitation during school hours,
organize craft sessions or work as assistants in the Library - to
name a few of the special ways the Sisters, in consultation with the
Principal, worked within the school community. They were being
true to Mary Aikenhead's words of being 'extensively useful'.

In Victoria and Queensland the position of 'extra Religious' on Staff
was not offered by the Catholic Education Office. There are now
no Sisters of Charity present in the Primary School system in those
two States.

In the year 2000 the opportunity for the Congregation to provide a
candidate for the principalship at Blackbutt, in the Wollongong
Diocese, and for her to be selected to be the founding principal
also speaks of the ability of the Congregation to contribute to the
life of church through educational leadership. The generosity,
vision and commitment of Sisters, throughout the years, have
enriched the parish community in a variety of parish initiatives.

Another surprising and positive result of the effect of Vatican II
came in the form of the achievement of Sisters after they left the
Congregation. Many became part of the Catholic Education Office
staff and advanced to positions of great responsibility. They have
always been a wonderful support for our Sisters who feel very
much at home in their dealings with them.

In NSW, four sisters continue to hold the position of Principal in
systemic schools. They have the satisfaction of being part of the
great changes that have taken place in education, particularly in
the area of curriculum. The Principal's role is vital and professional
courses in the promotion of leadership provided by the Catholic
Education Offices together with their willingness to take part in
other professional study has equipped them well to handle these
problems and even enjoy the challenge. Drug Education has
become part of the curriculum and Information Technology can
easily replace the personal approach that was always so much
part of Primary Education. The protection of the child remains high
in their priorities. Group planning, parent participation in decision
making, and overloaded curriculum are all part of Primary
Education and the fear that the handing on of the faith can be
mismanaged or lost is always present. It is now a prerequisite for
all teachers to participate in courses on Religious Studies.

We are grateful to all the Sisters who have worked during this
particularly difficult time in Primary Education and to those
presently there. We also laud those dedicated lay teachers who
are continuing what was begun in our first school at St Joseph's
Hobart in 1847. Thomas Arnold, Inspector and Director of Schools
in Tasmania at that time, in his memoirs recorded:

            'There were two thoroughly efficient schools
               in Tasmania during my term of office, to
             commemorate which with due praise is still
              a satisfaction to me. One was the Central
                  School. The other was that for girls
               conducted by the nuns at Hobart Town.'
                     
 (Apostolate of Love, p.133)


Our best wish is that Catholic Primary Schools will continue to be a
haven for children and a place where seeds are sown that will help
children grow in wholeness and develop in the faith that our early
Sisters nurtured so well.

				
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