Tags: Catholic schools, education, Primary school
By the 1950s, Albion Park was a prosperous, though still small town surrounded by dairy farms. Coal mines also operated in the mountains west of the town. The population of St Paul’s school numbered about fifty when we arrived there from Dapto in 1956. Sister Mammurtas was Head Sister, with two other nuns also living at the convent and teaching at the school. There were three classrooms that housed composite classes – Infants, Years 3-4 and Years 5-6.
The main thing I remember about my education at St Paul’s was the emphasis on rote learning. Spelling and Maths tables of course, but also the Catechism, Social Studies (mainly History – I remember learning passages about the first explorers), and Poetry, which I loved. We learned our grammar by doing many exercises. I was good at that, so I enjoyed it.
I really do not remember learning any science at all, though we may have. We had sport, but it was basically ball games like tunnel ball and Captain ball, and vigoro, which was something like cricket but played with an odd shaped bat.
I was usually in the top two or three in my class. The main competition was two boys; I don’t even remember the names or faces of any of the girls. I was pretty much a loner right through my childhood, and I suppose none of them really made any impression on me. I was a conformist in behaviour, afraid of doing anything wrong and getting into trouble. So the others probably don’t remember me either.
It appears that even the history book doesn’t remember me. In the fiftieth anniversary booklet for the Sisters of St Joseph in the parish, there were photos of class groups. In one 1956 photo were my elder brother and sister in the senior classes. In another of the same year was my younger sister in the little kids’ classes. There was no photo of the middle classes where I was. Ten years later, there was a photo of my little brother’s first communion class.
I must admit that it was hard to accept that I, as the family historian, was the only one of the family who didn’t appear in a class photograph.
In Catholic schools at the time, when students reached the end of sixth class, they undertook an examination called the Primary Final. This exam, i9f passed, resulted in a certificate that showed whether the pupil was ready for high school – in a Catholic school of course. I am certain that state schools didn’t have such a certificate.
I had hoped to beat the two boys who were my main rivals for top marks, but instead came second or third, I’m not sure which. However, I was the female dux of the school, which was a sop to my juvenile pride.
Mostly as a child, I felt I didn’t have much going for me. I was acutely aware, thanks to the nuns’ teaching and the priest’s preaching from the pulpit, of my sinfulness, and my inability to be as good as I thought I should be. We were poor, so we didn’t have any of the luxuries that some of the more well-off families had. Indeed, there were times when my parents couldn’t pay the nominal amount expected by the school for our attendance. However, school gave me the opportunity to do well at something. It was a way I could gain some recognition of my abilities.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Albion Park, Catholic schools, Sisters of St Joseph, St Paul's school
I had started at St Mary’s Catholic school back in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, after their summer break (August or September) in 1953. I had just turned five years old. My brother and older sister were already there, and we walked the mile or more to and from school together – rain or snow or sunshine. The only thing I remember from then is that the girl sitting next to me had head lice.
After we arrived in Australia in March 1954, the three of us attended St John’s Catholic school in Dapto. My younger sister was about to turn four and would start the following year. Apart from wagging school and getting punished for it, I have only a few vague memories of school.
One memory is of walking from the coal truck that dropped us on the main street up the hill to the school, carrying our home-made cloth school bags. On one of those days, my sister Pauline was stabbed in the leg by the nib of her pen that had poked through the cloth; I think she still has a blue mark where the skin was pierced. After that, we got leather satchels for our school books.
We moved to Albion Park Rail in 1956 and once again we were sent to the local Catholic school, St Paul’s, in Albion Park. That was about 3-4 miles away, so we caught the school bus. St Paul’s school was in a small, four-room brick building, and was situated on a 3-4 acre block at the western edge of town. It had a large playground that sloped down to the road. To one side of the school building was the weatherboard convent, where the nuns lived.
On the other side of the convent stood the two-storey presbytery, the priest’s house, and the church was after that. Beyond the Catholic church when we attended, was the Church of England, and across the road was the Presbyterian church.
* The area known first as Terry’s Meadows had been settled by the 1830s; and in 1859 the township was officially named Albion Park. There was mixed farming at first, but gradually dairy farming became the largest and most profitable primary in much of the Illawarra district (apart from coal and in the 20th century, steel).
The original Catholic Church, built of weatherboard, was established in 1867, but there was no school until parishioners wrote to Mother Mary MacKillop in 1881, requesting her to staff a new school with her ‘hard working Sisters of St Joseph’. The foundation stone for the convent school was laid in September 1881, and school began early the following year with about forty pupils. For about fifty years, the school was named St Joseph’s, for the Josephite order who taught there. Later, it became St Paul’s.
Schooling in the early days at St Paul’s consisted of the three Rs; the traditional Reading, Writing and ‘rithmatic, but with an added fourth R – Religion. Religion was what made it different to state schools, drawing Catholics together in a common faith and community.
Many children at that time would walk or ride horses up to four miles each way to school, and that was after having helped with milking and other work before school, and then again after school.
(c) Linda Visman
* Historical material sourced from Daybreak, a history of the Sisters of St Joseph in Albion Park, 1883-1983, a publication to commemorate their centenary, 1983.
Tags: Catholic schools, Confirmation, First Communion, First Confession, Sisters of St Joseph, St Paul's church
School was, apart from home, my security. I was good at my lessons, which usually involved rote learning of facts and passages. I was good at spelling, maths and Social Studies, and at Catechism. That was the ideal in the system – no questioning, just blind acceptance of what you were told. I was good at that, so I did well. I strove always to please and, mostly, I did.
The nuns schooled us in our religion, and we were expected to know our Catechism by heart. I can still picture the little green book we used that was set out in question and answer form (“Q: Who made the world? A: God made the world.”), and I knew every answer to every question. We were taught the importance of the Sacraments, and were prepared for receiving them at the appropriate age by the nuns. We made our First Confession just before receiving our First Holy Communion when we were about seven or eight. It was scary, having to confess my sins of fighting or being disobedient to Christ’s representative. I was always petrified that God would see me doing something bad, like sneaking a penny from my mother’s purse to go buy a lolly at the local shop. It didn’t always stop me from doing it, but boy, I sure enough felt so guilty about it that it was a long time before I did it again! I made sure I went to Confession every time too, so that I would be forgiven and not go to Hell if I died.
At about ten or eleven we were Confirmed by the bishop; in our case, Bishop McCabe of Wollongong. I took the name Bernadette as my Confirmation name because I loved the story of St Bernadette of Lourdes. We attended Benediction at the church every Friday, and visited at the day-long Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on the First Friday of every month.
The Latin Mass was an ongoing institution, and we attended every Sunday. We also went with our parents on Holy Days, like Ascension Thursday and All Saints Day, as if they were a Sunday. I think the kids from the state school were jealous that we had those days off school. On Sundays (and Holy Days), as we often didn’t have a vehicle, we went to Mass on a special bus. It cost sixpence (6d) per school age child and a shilling (1/-) per adult – 4/- for the six of us. Dad received about eight to ten pounds a week wages. Our parents were also supposed to pay for our schooling. But, as we were poor, there were many times when Mum didn’t have the money, and we were treated as charity cases.
There were two money collections taken up at Sunday Mass – one assigned to the maintenance of the parish priest, and the other for the church and its operations. Everyone, no matter how poor, was expected to add coins to the collection plate. Whenever we saw a ten shilling note in the plate, we were amazed that someone had so much money to give away. From school, we also attended Mass on other special saints’ Feast Days, e.g. St Paul (as our church’s dedicated saint) and St Joseph (the nuns were Sisters of St Joseph).
 Exposition is a manner of honouring the Holy Eucharist (Christ’s body, in the form of the consecrated Host), by exposing It, with proper solemnity, to the view of the faithful in order that they may pay their devotions before It.
 One pound was equal to twenty shillings.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Catholic schools, education, Mary MacKillop, Mother Mary of the Cross, nuns, sainthood, Sisters of St Joseph
In early 1956, Dad bought land by the shore of Lake Illawarra and moved our caravan there. By then we’d been living in the van for almost two years.
The four of us kids left St John’s Catholic school which we’d attended in Dapto to go to St Paul’s in Albion Park. Both schools were run by the Sisters of St Joseph – nicknamed the “Brown Joeys” because they wore a brown, rather than a black habit.
The Sisters of St Joseph had established St Paul’s Catholic Primary School in 1882 to serve the needs of the Albion Park Catholic community. Initially known as St Joseph’s, the single building school commenced with three sisters and fifty students. In 1940 the school assumed the name of the parish patron, St Paul.
When we attended there were still only three classrooms and three sisters teaching there. They lived in the convent house next to the school grounds.
The order of the Sisters of St Joseph was started by a woman who was officially canonised as Australia’s first saint in 2010. She was Mother Mary MacKillop, now known as St Mary of the Cross.
Mary Helen MacKillop, born in 1842 in Melbourne, was the first of eight children to Catholics Alexander and Flora MacKillop, who had migrated to Australia from Scotland. The family was poor but the children were all well educated by their father.
Mary worked hard to help the family and at age eighteen, went to Penola as governess to her aunt and uncle’s children, and also taught other local children.
In 1966, with help from Father Woods, her spiritual advisor, she set up a school in an old stable. Her sisters, Anne and Lexie taught with her. Later that year, Mary and Lexie dressed as religious postulants, their way of showing their dedication to God and to the education of poor Catholic children.
In 1867, Mary became the first sister, Mary of the Cross, and Mother Superior of a new order of nuns, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The order embraced poverty and their focus was to teach the poor and those in remote areas of Australia. The order grew to become one of the largest in Australia.
The Head Sister when I was at St Paul’s school was Sr Mammertus. She was very strict, and most children – and even parents – were afraid of her. My favourite nun was Sr Therese, who was young and considerate, quite different to the others. There were only three rooms in the school building, so all classes were multigrade.
I don’t know if it was any harder being taught by the sisters, but the kids at St Paul’s, which has grown enormously, are now taught by lay teachers. With the turn away from religion by many, the religious life no longer holds the attraction it once did, and there are not many nuns now. Even where they do exist, most no longer wear the hot, drab and bulky habits of their predecessors.
What has been your experience of religious nuns? Do you remember the (almost) light-hearted animosity between children at Catholic and non-Catholic schools?
© Linda Visman 11.04.2014 (566 words)