Victoria Congregation – History
Presentation Sisters Victoria…a continuing story
In 1873, Presentation sister, Mother Paul Mulquin and six companions – Sisters Bernard Gunson, Patrick Irwin, Margaret Mary Cronin, Berchmans Carroll, and aspirants Elizabeth Mackey and Anne Bray – from Limerick, Ireland, bid farewell to their home shores and set sail for Victoria, Australia.
They were responding to a request from Fr James Corbett, Parish Priest of St Mary’s (East) S Kilda, who wrote “From the ends of the earth I write to you for help…” The sisters were needed to staff St Mary’s school, alongside lay teachers, thus securing a Catholic education for local children, many of whom were from poor Irish immigrant families. The Victorian Education Act of 1872, with its provision for free, secular and compulsory education, had ended funding for independent schools and there were insufficient funds to pay teachers. Without volunteer help, the schools would not survive.
The sisters arrived at Sandridge, Port Melbourne on 21 December, 1873, with Christmas Day, 1873 marking the foundation date of this first Victorian Presentation community. Shortly after, the Presentation Sisters began primary classes for girls and junior boys in St Mary’s Church, and girls’ secondary classes in the presbytery. The classes moved to Turret Lodge, on the current site of PCW Melbourne, in 1875. The senior boys remained at St Mary’s, with reduced staff, until the arrival of the Christian Brothers in 1878.
In 1874, another group of Presentation Sisters, from the Presentation Convent in Kildare, Ireland, answered a similar call to go to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. It was from there that Mothers John Byrne and Paul Fay later came to Melbourne. They were invited to establish a convent and schools in the Brighton-Elsternwick area. Star of the Sea Convent at Gardenvale opened in March, 1883.
Mother John Byrne Mother Paul Fay
As the need for Catholic education in the growing colony grew, pioneering Presentation Sisters responded by establishing convents and schools in Daylesford in 1892, at Chiltern and Rutherglen in 1901 and Inglewood in 1907. The sisters, ever practical and pragmatic, supported the parish schools by teaching music to fee paying students and operating several ‘select’ schools for young women.
On 27 November, 1907, partly in response to the demands of the Victorian Registration Act (1905), the six Victorian Presentation foundations amalgamated to form a single Victorian Presentation congregation, now known as Presentation Sisters Victoria. This also led to the establishment of a central Presentation novitiate, and later, a teacher training centre at O’Neill College, Elsternwick.
Over the ensuing years, Presentation Sisters Victoria continued to respond creatively, and with compassion and commitment, to changing and emerging community needs. Whilst continuing to provide a quality Catholic education for communities in the inner south-eastern suburbs, Presentation Sisters Victoria also established schools on the growing rural-urban and western fringes of Melbourne, and in country Victoria. In each case, they strove to provide the very best in learning opportunities, respectful and inclusive of culture and tradition, and responsive to the specific needs of individuals and communities. Presentation education endeavoured to remain abreast of advances in pedagogy, religious education, theology and spirituality, leading the way, with other congregations, in their implementation. In addition, Victorian Presentation sisters, along with others, were active in the development of innovative and contemporary religious education resources, formation programs and in teacher training and professional support across the dioceses. with all reflecting the vision and theology of Vatican II. In 1967, the Presentation Teacher Training Centre, O’Neill College, merged with the Brigidine Training College at Malvern, to become Christ College, Oakleigh, under the leadership of Mother Eymard Temby pbvm and Sr Perpetua Corrigan csb.
Contrary to Nano’s dream of religious sisters to move and minister freely within the community, from 1805 up until post Vatican II changes, the Presentation Sisters, as a religious congregation, were subject to the rule of enclosure. This restricted their movements beyond the convent gates to travel to and from their work in schools and for appointments. During this period, Victorian Presentation lay sisters engaged in significant “backdoor” ministries from the warmth of their kitchens and their laundries. They listened, and offered hospitality, comfort and care to those who visited. In doing so, the Sisters remained true to their founding spirit.
From the very beginning, partnership with people who share a commitment to education leading to life has been a hallmark of Presentation ministry. Opportunities for such collaboration in Victoria increased in the 1970s, with government funding flowing back into Catholic schools and post Vatican II changes to religious life. Since then, lay partners in ministry have increasingly brought their wisdom, experience and expertise to the life of Presentation schools, enriching them, as they shared in their leadership, care and guidance with Presentation Sisters Victoria.
The call of Vatican II saw a surge of energy and new life, tempered by challenge, sweep through religious congregations, at a time when the need for sisters to staff schools decreased. The resultant movement of Presentation sisters out of schools in the 1970’s opened up opportunities for their response to other needs in the community. The sisters embraced diversity in community living and ministry… It was their intention to work beside members of the wider community in their endeavours to bring about a just and integrated future for all. Since then, Presentation sisters have continued to work in education in diverse ways, whilst moving into parish and pastoral work, various chaplaincies, welfare and counselling, support of the sick and aged, adult and family education, spiritual direction, ecological justice and spirituality, and actions for justice and aboriginal reconciliation.
Presentation Sisters Victoria
…our living expression…
…In these times, the Spirit invites us into a new relatedness
often beyond our present imagining.
We live within, and witness to, the mystery of Christ
who calls us in love into deeper union,
new and expansive relationships,
and into wider circles of love and compassion…
Inspired by Nano
we desire to consciously participate in the Eucharistic mystery of unifying love
unfolding within the heart of the cosmos,
so that Christ may be continually born anew in us and through us.
From Presentation Sisters Victoria Chapter 2014
In opening The Stables, later known as the Nagle Education Centre, Presentation sisters responded to the needs of isolated, local women for skills training and support as they entered or re-entered the workforce during the ‘computer age’. Similarly, the needs of women isolated and disadvantaged as refugees, through marriage breakdown, family violence, illness, disability and unemployment, gave rise to Wellsprings for Women in Dandenong, a centre of community, education, empowerment and recreation. As with the Presentation colleges, the community works have been entrusted to the leadership, care and guidance of lay partners in ministry. Committed to ensuring that their ministries continue to flourish beyond themselves, Presentation Sisters Victoria, in 2014, entrusted governance of Star of the Sea College, Presentation Family Centre and Wellsprings for Women to Kildare Ministries. Currently, PCW Melbourne continues under the governance of Presentation Sisters Victoria.
In this 21st century, there is also a growing cosmic consciousness amongst Presentation people, and a deepening awareness of the interconnectedness of life within an ever evolving and expanding universe. The response is one of gratitude, wonder and awe for a loving God revealed in Christ and all of creation and new expressions of being in relationship with God, each other and the whole of life. The Wilderness Project at Balnarring, which is returning a small acreage of land to native vegetation, is one such expression.
Nano Nagle’s work in Ireland established a vision that education, in its myriad forms, is a means of empowering people for life. This vision and that of the emerging understanding of God revealed in the communion of life, continues to find expression in new and contemporary ways through the work of all engaged in Presentation inspired ministries.