History – Wagga Wagga Congregation
KILDARE to WAGGA WAGGA
In the early 1870s Father McAlroy was commissioned by Bishop Lanigan of Goulburn to recruit teaching nuns from Ireland for the schools in the Diocese of Goulburn, which then included Wagga Wagga.
Father McAlroy together with Dr Bermingham visited the Presentation Sisters in Kildare, where they spoke so eloquently on behalf of the Catholic population of the Riverina that some volunteers offered their services for the distant mission.
Five Sisters were chosen to bring Christian education to the children of the early settlers, many of whom had left their native oppressed land, so that they might be free to bring up their children in the Catholic faith.
M M John Byrne Sr M Xavier Byrne Sr M Paul Fay Sr M Evangelist Kelly Sr Stanislaus Dunne
The five Sisters were Mother M John Byrne from Kildare and her sister, Sister Mary Xavier Byrne from the Convent at Mountmellick, both of whom had been born in Swords, Co Dublin, Sister M Paul Fay from a famous Dublin family, who had been born in London, Sister M Evangelist Kelly native of Manasterevan, and Sister M Stanislaus Dunne born in Kildare.
Go, and may His love befriend thee,
May His wisdom guide thy way:
May His mighty arm defend thee
Safely on life’s dreary way.
In each scene of desolation
May His voice thy spirit cheer:
May the God of they salvation
Still in they defence appear.
And when angel hands descending
Bid thine earthly warfare cease,
May the Lord Himself descending
Close thine eyes and whisper peace.
May His presence and His blessing
Sweetly tranquilize thy breast,
Till the crown of life possessing
Thou shalt enter into rest.
Before leaving for the colony of New South Wales, the Sisters sought an indult from the Pope to teach not only the poor, but also the children of the wealthier classes. In the country districts of New South Wales the children of the pioneering landowners were often far removed from Catholic, or any education.
On 10 March 1874 the five Sisters left Kildare, Ireland. They travelled to Georges Hill Convent, Dublin, where they stayed a couple of days. From Dublin they set off for London to embark from Gravesend on the SS Northumberland for Melbourne and then to Wagga Wagga. On 12 March 1874 they sailed along with some 85 saloon passengers and a little over two hundred second and third class passengers. The Sisters were included among the saloon passengers together with Dr McAlroy VG of Goulburn and the Very Rev P Bermingham DD. It was reported that the voyage was “rapid and prosperous”. Some 4,000 of the 12,000 miles were under sail, so good was the weather. The Northumberland arrived at Sandridge Pier, Melbourne on 6 May 1874.
The Sisters spent some time at the Presentation Convent Windsor where Presentation Sisters from Limerick had made a foundation in December 1873. The five Sisters left for Albury on 16 May 1874 and whilst there stayed with the Sisters of Mercy for a rest period.
On 28 May, they departed in Mr John Cox’s horse carriage for his Mangoplah station home, a journey of some 60 miles. At Mangoplah they were greeted by the Cox family with hearty Irish welcome.
Leaving the next morning, 29 May, the Sisters headed for Wagga. They were met twenty miles out of town by a large number of the leading inhabitants of the district, together with the first parish priest, Father William Bermingham, and Father John Dwyer who escorted them into town. They went to St Michael’s Church where the Te Deum was sung and God fervently thanked to the Sisters’ safe arrival.
WAGGA in the 1870s…
In 1870 Wagga Wagga had been established as a municipality. There were some 2,500 people within its boundaries and about 7,000 in the surrounding districts with about 7,000 acres under agriculture.
Initially the five Sisters lived in the presbytery, two small, ill-ventilated cramped rooms, vacated for their use by the priests. The priests found temporary lodging in a hotel until a very kind protestant lady, Mrs Jackson, placed at their disposal, rent free, a house which later became the first Calvary Hospital, Wagga Wagga.
The stables were converted into a school for over 130 children.
SITE for the CONVENT
On 3 June 1874 Mr John Donnelly purchased 40 acres of land on a small hill overlooking the town, as a site for the convent. John Cox then provided the finance for building the convent, which had been designed by the two Byrne sisters, whose father was a Dublin architect.
However, faced with many unforseen difficulties, costs rose. It was with the generosity and good will of many others that the convent became a reality. The Sisters moved into residence at Mount Erin on 20 November 1876.
SCHOOL ON SITE
Each day a horse-drawn cab took the Sisters to the stable school where they first taught. In January 1978 the school was transferred to the lower floor of the western wing of the main building of the new convent at Mount Erin. This school became known as Saint Mary’s.
After many years of persistent ongoing requests from the people of the area, the Bishop finally gave approval for aboarding school to be built. It was ready for its first boarders on 26 January 1890. Applications for admission to the boarding school soon exceeded the accommodation available. New additions were completed and opened on 25 September 1892.
As part of this extension the High School was named St Eugene’s in place of St Brigid’s as it had formerly been known. (Children of the more affluent citizens attended St Brigid’s upstairs above the original St Mary’s to make it possible for those less well off to attend school.)
EXTENSIONS TO ST EUGENE’S
In 1908 came the third boarding school additions and the fourth in 1914. Classrooms were also included.
When the chapel was built Saint Mary’s Primary School was moved to the rooms beneath it. Saint Mary’s Infant School was situated at the top of the playground, near the southern entrance to the chapel. This was built in 1901. The new St Mary’s school was opened on 3 June 1934.
ST STANISLAUS’ WING
With the infants moving to their new building, additions for the community provided an infirmary and extra sleeping accommodation for the Sisters.
MOUNT ERIN HIGH SCHOOL
With the growth in numbers and requirements of modern facilities, e.g. library and science, the new Mount Erin High School was opened and blessed on 12 September 1938 and extended in 1962 and again in 1972.
TRINITY SENIOR HIGH
The implementation of the Wyndham System presented new challenges for the education system. After some experimentation Mount Erin became a girls school for Years 7-10 and Trinity Senior High a co-educational School staffed by Presentation Sisters, Christian Brothers and lay staff with the boys in Years 7-10 staying at St Michael’s.
A NEW PHASE
2003 brought the closure of St Michael’s High School, Mount Erin High School and Trinity Senior High.
In 2004 Kildare Catholic College, on the Mount Erin site, and Mater Dei College on a new site in the Lakehaven area, were opened. Both of these schools are coeducational with students from Year 7 to Year 12.
FOUNDATIONS from Mount Erin WAGGA WAGGA within New South Wales
FOUNDATIONS from Mount Erin WAGGA WAGGA beyond New South Wales