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: 1950s Australia, Catholic Church, Catholic school, Sisters of St Joseph
We were a fairly typical Catholic family of the 1950s. Migrants from England, we were steeped in the Church’s ancient traditions and guided by its precepts. We believed all we were told: that the Pope spoke with the authority of God; that the Bishop was his representative; that the priest acted for Christ in the Sacraments, and was a respected teacher who would lead us on the way to Heaven. Everything I learned reinforced all this as I passed through the primary grades of our parochial (parish) school in the Illawarra area of New South Wales.
When I look back, I see that much of our life was related in some way to the church and its activities, and to the people who attended there with us. Some of the hymns I loved were those that asserted our Catholicism, especially “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Faith of Our Fathers”. I was much chagrined when I later learned that other denominations claimed these hymns too!
Our three-roomed, red-brick Catholic school stood on a parcel of land at the edge of town, a water tank was attached at one end of the building. Between the school and the huge pine trees that lined the fence alongside the road, was a bare playground. In the same parcel of land as the school and not far from it, a the small wooden convent housed our three Sisters of St Joseph teachers. Beyond that was the two-storeyed presbytery for the priest. I could never understand why, being for only one person, it was so big. And finally, furthest from the school was St Paul’s church. This was a white-painted, brick building in the solid rectangular style, with a tiled roof. To me, it was a substantial reminder of the solidity of our Faith.
We lived about five miles from the school, and caught a bus there every day. Our school used one local bus company and the state school used the other one, though both sets of owners attended the Catholic Church. I have a feeling that, as well as it being logistically a good idea, keeping the two sets of kids apart was one of the reasons for this. Actually, while there was some animosity between the Catholics (Micks or Tykes) and the other denominations (Proddies) in the cities, we didn’t see much at all. Sometimes we walked in class groups into town, for Salk inoculations against polio at the Council Chambers, or something similar. We had to go past the state school and, if it were lunch time, there would be some heckling and cat calls from the Proddy kids. I’m sure we gave as good as we got in spite of our holy escorts. However, it seemed to me, that we kids got more stick for being Pommies than for being Catholic. The chant, “Pommy-whackers stink like crackers!” often followed us as we walked by a group of kids playing on the otherwise quiet dirt roads.
(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)