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125th anniversary of St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, Friday 11 September 1998: address on the occasion.

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The Sisters of the Good Samaritan were the first congregation of religious Sisters to be founded in our country — by Archbishop Folding, our first Catholic Bishop — in the year 1857. As part of the Order of St Benedict, it was a direct response to the needs of disadvantaged women in colonial society. The first Convent was opened in Pitt Street,

Sydney, and it quickly became evident that, among all those needs, education was of special importance. Hence the opening of the Sisters’ first school in 1861 and the development of the philosophy of education that so informs the Good Samaritans to the present day.

It is a philosophy that bases its ministry of education in the values of the Christian gospels; one that places the school within the community of the local church; that recognises the innate dignity of each individual student; that takes seriously the duties of pastoral care for each child in the school; that provides a broad, challenging and creative curriculum of education; one that met the challenge of Archbishop Folding’s charge that “No work of charity can produce greater good for society, nor better promote the happiness of the poor, than the careful instruction of women”.

It was in 1873, just as the mining industry in this region was gaining momentum, that 5 Sisters of the Good Samaritan, led by Mother Angela Carroll, disembarked from a steamer in Wollongong Harbour - and one week later were ready to open their first school here. From what we read, the young pupils were somewhat unruly at first and unwilling to learn. To enforce the necessary discipline and lunchtime supervision, the little wooden school standing in the grounds of the church of St Francis Xavier was lifted and taken intact across the street to the grounds of the Convent. Apparently the move had the desired effect.

Undoubtedly as a general proposition, the education of girls during the Victorian period was inadequate. Yet reports of St Mary’s College in those years speak of high standards of achievement in English, history, geography, mathematics, French, needlework, art and of course, in music where the School today continues to excel. Not surprising, then, that the College attracted students from Sydney, from Windsor, Bathurst and the far South Coast as well as from Wollongong, and by 1886 it became necessary to build a new Chapel and boarding facilities.


Growth continued as Australia entered a new century as a new nation, and Wollongong began a new phase of expansion with the start of the iron and steel industries. Conditions at St Mary’s College became fairly crowded, although it was not until 1929 that a new Convent was built facing Harbour Street. The Convent in fact has been home to the Sisters until this year, 1998, when they moved to a smaller building next door, and the Convent has now been incorporated into the School. Indeed, these later years have seen many other changes. For a long time the Sisters staffed not only St Mary’s College but also 5 surrounding primary schools. Today, the Parish Schools have been handed over to lay teachers. There are only two Sisters teaching at the College; and next year, when Sister Rita Hayes retires as Principal, there will be only one. The boarding school section closed in the 1960s to accommodate increased numbers of day pupils.

Yet the commitment to providing education of the highest quality - one which enables your students to develop a personal relationship with God, that develops a healthy self-esteem, independence of thought, confidence and achievement academically, socially and culturally - is as strong today as it was when those 5 Sisters laid the foundations of St Mary’s Star of the Sea College 125 years ago. The student population is now close to

1100. There are 77 teachers and 24 non-teaching staff. The information technologies of today build upon the traditional literacies and bases of education And the values inherent in that education are the same as they were when Archbishop Folding issued his great charge to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Among those values are the virtues of genuine tolerance and mutual respect for all people, wherever they are from. It is true that, for most of its first nine decades, the students of St Mary’s College were overwhelmingly the daughters of people who had come to this country originally from Britain and Ireland. In more recent years, as a reflection of the great diversity of contemporary Australia, you have had girls from all over the world. In fact today there are over 50 nationalities represented in your student body: girls from a great variety of ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. From that experience - by precept as well as by example - they will strengthen their commitment to those

qualities of respect for and acceptance of all humankind which lie at the heart of our multiculturalism and of the Christian faith.

As we celebrate 125 years of the presence of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Wollongong and of St Mary Star of the Sea College, it is appropriate that we acknowledge all that has been achieved over that century and a quarter in terms of producing generations of educated, accomplished and tolerant women, who have made their mark at all levels of Australian society. They have contributed to making us what we are. For truly, as Archbishop Folding recognised when he founded the Order of the Sisters of the Good

Samaritan, the results of their work have been the enrichment of our country and, during all the years of its existence, our nation.

As Governor-General, and on behalf of that nation, I say thank you to all the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, both past and present, who have served here in Wollongong. I offer the Sisters, the staff and the students, and all members of the family of St Mary Star of the Sea College, Helen’s and my sincere congratulations on the 125th Anniversary and our warmest good wishes for all the years that are to come.