In the early 1950’s there was no Catholic secondary school for boys between Granville and Campbelltown. It was in the era of post-war migration that Sydney’s south-western sprawl was commencing. Hostels at Villawood, Cabramatta and Hargraves Park, near Liverpool, were the first residences for waves of migrants from Britain and Europe. Many of these ‘new Australians’ set up their first homes in adjacent suburbs at the same time as young families from the inner city and eastern suburbs were moving into new housing developments in the corridor between Granville and Liverpool. In this demographic context, Catholic primary schools had been established at Granville, Merrylands, Guildford, Fairfield, Villawood, Smithfield, Cabramatta and Liverpool. The time was ripe for a boys’ school at Fairfield.
The site of Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield was once a homestead built in 1909 by the Dreis family, who ran a vineyard and winery in the area. The property was called Ferndale. After Henry Dreis’ death, his wife Emily lived on at Ferndale until 1930. The family was a generous benefactor to the church and donated the land on which the parish church now stands, as well as the altar and some statues.
Later the Dreis property was bought for the setting up of a new school. Mrs Dreis was delighted to hear that it was to be used as an educational centre and sold the property for the small sum of £3400, a fraction of its real value. In August 1951, the Brothers received a letter from Archbishop O’Brien on behalf of His Eminence, Cardinal Gilroy, requesting staff for a new boys’ school planned for Fairfield.
The Patrician Brother Provincial at that time. Brother Norbert Phelan, responded to the request of Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, to commit a small band of Brothers to the establishment of an upper primary and secondary Catholic school at Fairfield. Brother Kevin Samuel, Brother Eugene Kelly and Brother Peter Johnson formed the first Patrician community at Fairfield. The Brothers took up residence in the old weatherboard homestead, which existed on the property.
On the acquisition of this property by the church, a work of transformation commenced and was well under way when, on August 31, 1952, His Eminence, Cardinal Gilroy, assisted by the first Parish Priest of Fairfield, Father Cunningham, blessed the foundation stone for the first block of classrooms.
Because the school was situated in Our Lady of the Rosary parish, the crest Fairfield adopted, had the Rosary beads with a large M at the centre for Mary. The Latin motto chosen was Maria Duce, which literally means ‘with Mary as Leader’. In practice it came to be understood more as ‘with Mary as Model’, in the sense of Mary bringing Jesus to the world. It was because of devotion to Mary that the school colours of blue and blue -’Our Lady’s colours’ – were adopted. Besides, Mary, the mother of Jesus, held a place of special devotion in the traditions of the Patrician Brothers and especially the founding principal, Brother Peter Johnson.
An important guest at that first opening and blessing ceremony was the local Federal member for Werriwa, one who was later to change the face of Australian politics, Gough Whitlam. Later as Prime Minister of Australia in 1974, he recalled the opening in a message of goodwill from Canberra. “I take great personal satisfaction from the 21st anniversary of Patrician Brothers’ College. One of my first duties as a member of Parliament was at the opening of the College in 1953.’
At the time of opening there was an enrolment of 130 boys in Years 4, 5 and 6. The student population expanded rapidly as evidenced in the following figures:
- 1954 – 240 boys
- 1955 – 360 boys
- 1956 – 500 boys
- 1957 – 620 boys
Meantime, the following Brothers had joined the staff – Brothers Ignatius Barrett, Aloysius Hannigan, John Thompson, Felix Kennedy and Richard Doheny.
In the early years of the school:
- All policies and decisions relating to day-to-day activities in the school were made within the Brothers’ community.
- Money was always in short supply
- The permission of the Parish Priest was important
- Huge class sizes
It must be remembered that for almost the first twenty years of the school’s existence, not a cent of government funding was available to Catholic schools. Likewise, for most of that time there was no systemic infrastructures such as the Catholic Education Office and Catholic Education Commission. The viability of a Catholic school was sustained by the parents and the local parish communities in collaboration with a Religious Congregation.Each student had a school fee card which a Brother would tick upon collection of fees in class on one morning each week. At the end of the 1950’s the school fees at Fairfield were two shillings and sixpence (approximately 50 cents!) per week. Counting the weekly takings was a Friday night ritual in the Monastery. When totals were tallied anxiety would prevail, awaiting the Superior’s pronouncement about the likelihood of being able to meet commitments in Monastery and school for the coming week.The Brothers lived frugally in those times. There was an old fashioned radio in the monastery, TV was a long way off and on special occasions, the Brothers might get the loan of a car from a relative or from a generous parent.Yet, despite the economic hardship and the year-to-year survival mode, good things were happening in the school and a spirit of optimism was to the fore. The pioneer principal, Brother Peter Johnson, also the Superior in the Brothers’ community, in his end-of-year report at the Concert and Prize-giving held in Cabramatta Civic Centre on 10 December 1958, included the following points of interest (reported in local newspaper, The Biz)
- From a humble beginning the school has grown to a roll call of 700 boys in classes ranging from 4th Class to Intermediate (current Year 9).
- During this time the Brothers have not spared themselves in the work of Christian education. The boys have been given religious instruction daily and by word and example the Brothers have endeavoured to put before the boys the highest Christian ideals.
- Last year 56 boys passed the Primary Final examination with 20 securing Honours. 18 boys passed the Intermediate, one boy, John Syriatowicz, winning an Intermediate bursary.
- Realising the value of sport in a well-rounded education for boys, every facility and encouragement have been offered in this respect. This year the Under 14 team won the premiership in the Southern Districts’ Cricket Association.
And so, at the end of its first six years, the formula that would be re-worked by the Brothers and their co-workers in coming decades was already taking shape – Priority of a Christian life style …+ Affirmation of academic achievement…+ Important role of sport in a balanced education of boys.According to the Brothers’ Constitutions at that time, the School Principal and the Superior in the monastery were one and the same Brother. The Superior’s term of office was set at 6 years. And so, at the end of 1958 the founding principal Brother Peter Johnson was transferred to Patrician Brothers Granville and was replaced by Brother Aloysius Delaney from the Patrician Brothers’ community at Forest Lodge.The following Brothers made up the Fairfield community in 1959 – Brothers Aloysius Delaney, Serenus Quann, Celestine Mulhall, Aengus Kavanagh (arrived from Ireland in late 1957), Richard Doheny (arrived from Ireland in 1955), Felix Kennedy and Cyril Hinchy.In 1959, The Rosarian, the School’s first annual magazine was first published. In this year too, an outdoor statue of Our Lady was commissioned and this statue occupied a prominent place in front of the School for many years, acting as a focal point for the October rosary tradition.A few short excerpts from the report of the Provincial Superior Brother Rodan Bergin, November 1959 catch a flavour of items of concern in Religious Life at the end of the 1950’s. The Brothers’ timetable expected all to rise at 5.30am for an hour of common prayer before going to morning Mass in the parish.
THE 1960’S (1960-1969) – SURVIVAL AND CONSOLIDATION
- 1959–1962 Brother Aloysius Delaney
- 1963–1964 Brother Baptist Stenning
- 1965–1967 Brother Charles Barry
- 1968–1969 Brother Aengus Kavanagh
The trying condition alluded to by Brother Rodan in his end-of-year report on the Brothers had many elements. With the commencement of the 1960’s the enrolment had grown to 900+. Human, financial and physical resources were stretched beyond limits in the endeavour to cope with the rapid expansion. Class sizes of 50 and 60 + were the norm. The school felt duty-bound to accept the flow-through of boys from the official feeder parish schools of Fairfield, Cabramatta, Smithfield and Villawood. Many other Catholic families also sought admission for their boys. There was a shortage of classrooms, despite yearly add-on of a few rooms as permitted by funds from local parish communities. Besides, there was a limited supply of Brothers as other places of Patrician engagement in schools, such as Granville, Blacktown and Liverpool, were likewise coping with expanding enrolments. At this time there were no Catholic Teachers’ Colleges to train lay teachers to work in Catholic schools and the salary scale was considerably lower than that available in government schools and in the more well-to-do private schools. Fairfield was very lucky to gain the services of three great stalwarts in this period, Bill Parker, Pat Tighe and Kevin Bourke, men who saw teaching as a vocation and who were to give generously of themselves for many years in the unfolding story of the school.
The large classes and overcrowded classrooms, often three to a desk, presented a real challenge to the teacher wishing to maintain an orderly learning environment, not to speak of the daunting task of monitoring homework, correcting written work and preparation and dispatch of report cards. Clerical and secretarial support was still a long way off. In addition to the large class sizes and the inadequate teaching spaces, the Brothers’ living conditions were far from satisfactory. Brothers were crammed two and three to a room in the old monastery which was situated on the edge of the playground without any fence or lawn to afford protection or privacy. Only a small section of the total grounds, in the immediate vicinity of the school and monastery, could be used as a playground. As yet, the remainder of the property was unlevelled and was overgrown with weeds, vines and spent orchards. The quadrangles between the classrooms were of concrete but the rest of the playing area was bereft of any growth and the powdery soil made it either a dust-bowl or a mud-bath. The impact on the adjacent monastery was less than pleasant. Despite regular ‘manual work’ rosters for the Brothers, the linoleum floors were either soiled with mud or layered with dust. In 1961, two Brothers were without a bedroom. Each would prop up a mattress in an overcrowded room by day. By night, one would set up ‘bed’ in the only corridor in the monastery while the other would wait for guests to vacate the parlour before adjusting his mattress underneath the table for the night’s rest.
However, at least there was an acknowledgement of the problem regarding accommodation for the Brothers. The monastery records of a meeting held in March 1960 included the following quirky entry – ‘Plans for a new monastery were debated at length. Sites real and imaginary were proposed.’
The Parish Priest of Fairfield at this time (and since 1956) was Father Martin Prendergast. Father Prendergast was generally supportive of the notion of a new monastery and it was his task to negotiate with the feeder parishes regarding capital costs. That role gave him a strong say in the matters of design, amenities and location of the project.
Needless to say, there were quite a few animated meetings between Father Prendergast and the Brothers as the project progressed. It was a happy day for the Brothers especially, when Cardinal Gilroy came to Fairfield on April 23, 1961 to bless and open the new monastery, as well as some new classrooms. It was a great relief to get into more durable and better appointed living conditions with some degree of comfort and privacy.
By 1960, the cohort of students presenting themselves for the Intermediate Certificate exam (end of 3rd Form or present Year 9) had grown to 80+. In those years, a majority of students left school after Intermediate Certificate since a good Intermediate Certificate pass ensured access to work in the public service and in banks while the reaching of Intermediate Certificate standard was sufficient to guarantee acceptance into a wide range of apprenticeships in trade courses.
Nevertheless, pressure was mounting at Fairfield, from parents especially, to advance to the full status of a Leaving Certificate school. Given the survival pressures already operating, this new challenge stretched the endurance boundaries even further. As yet, the school did not have a science laboratory, a library was a distant luxury and some of the local clergy voiced concern about the ability of existing staff to teach a Leaving Certificate standard. Side-stepping widespread misgivings and conventional thinking, a first Form 4 class was introduced in 1960 and 21 students sat for the first Leaving Certificate examination at Fairfield Patrician in 1961. Results were better than predicted and before long, two Leaving Certificate classes became the norm. It was a disappointment to the Brothers however, that some of the more influential families continued to send their boys to more established and more prestigious Catholic schools outside the district hoping for higher quality matriculation achievement. This became a stimulus for the Brothers and lay teachers to double their effort to build up a strong academic culture in the school. Within a few years the drift was arrested. They say adversity can bring out the best in people. Many of the Brothers throughout the 1960’s found themselves teaching subjects where they were just the proverbial ‘few pages’ ahead of the students. Brother Vianney Foyle (died 1976) was a great asset on staff in this era. At various times he taught Mathematics, English, Economics, Modern History, Ancient History and Latin to Leaving Certificate Level as well as Religious Education and Science at junior level. This was before the age of narrow specialisation in teaching and many teachers taught a variety of subjects. What may have been missing in specialised knowledge of content was compensated for in sustained pastoral contact with groups of students with consequent relationships conducive to good learning.
Another factor which contributed to the development of a strong academic culture was the whole-hearted support of parents who wanted their boys to better their lot in life and who recognised that a good education with good credentialing were an important part of the formula. A majority of the parents had come to Australia to build a better future for their families and to escape the hardships of a post-war Europe.
Meanwhile, the classroom shortage had become acute. The Smithfield parish had completed an ambitious building project, which left them with a temporary surplus of classrooms. Parish Priest, Fr Bede, graciously offered Fairfield the use of two rooms. For two years, 1963 and 1964, two fifth classes from Fairfield Patrician were based in Smithfield. Boys from one class would make their own way there each day while another class would be transported from the school at Fairfield daily. A bus was hired from the Katen and Heath Red and White busline. To minimise expenses, two Brothers procured a bus driver’s licence. Principal, Brother Baptist Stenning and Brother Charles Barry would alternate in the daily bus driving duty between Fairfield and Smithfield each morning and afternoon. One can only imagine the increased pressure this chore placed on the two Brothers who already carried a very heavy workload at the school.
The toll of the early ‘60s was too heavy to bear for some. Brother Aloysius Delaney and Brother Baptist Stenning withdrew prematurely from principalship and from the school in stressed conditions.
Another initiative in the early ‘60s was the establishment of a school Army Cadet Unit. This initiative was undertaken, not from any commitment to military training but because involvement in the provided an opportunity for participation in interesting and structured activities for the boys as well as the opportunity for all to express talents and aptitudes not always catered for in the formal curriculum. Few who were in the Cadet Unit will look back on the annual camp at Singleton with other than fond memories of the challenging exercises and routines as well as the fun and camaraderie. Brothers, often without any previous experience of military discipline, volunteered to serve as Officers in the Unit. At first there was Brothers Mark and Aengus as Captain Ryan and Lieutenant Kavanagh, then Brothers Luke and Finian as Captain Jim Doran and Captain Power, and finally Brother Gregory as Captain Kerr. Jim Doran had a very commanding parade ground presence and under his leadership the Cadet Unit reached high levels of proficiency and acclaim in the local district. Kevin Bourke and Michael Grainger also served as Officers in the Cadets. The smart Cadet Unit, with its up-beat marching band, presented a favourable image of the growing school through participation in the range of festive and ceremonial activities in Fairfield and surrounding suburbs.
It was in these years also that the transformation of the grounds commenced. Nowadays, such a matter would be funded as a normal part of school establishment and development. Then, money had to be raised locally to pay for the initial clearing, earth-moving and leveling. Almost all of this money was raised in a non-stop campaign of bottle drives, which took place over a number of years. A familiar scenario on a Saturday afternoon was a team of parents, students and teachers sorting and stacking crates of bottles which had been salvaged from suburban backyards by crews of Brothers, boys and volunteer truck drivers.
After the heavy equipment had done the initial leveling, there followed many months of tedious clearing and shaping by cohorts of volunteer labourers armed with mattocks, shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows. Next came the grass planting. Almost every blade of grass on the existing ovals can trace its ‘lineage’ back to bag fulls of Kikuyu runners collected and transport from canal banks and overgrown wastelands of Fairfield and surrounding suburbs. Meanwhile, Brother Vianney Foyle, the ‘scholar’ as mentioned earlier, was the ‘greenie’ and the environmentalist in his spare time. Together with any Brothers and students, he could commandeer, he had embarked on shrub and tree-planting campaign, which accounts for most of the trees and vegetation which ring the present college grounds.
So, despite facilities and resources which by present day standards would be regarded as primitive, Fairfield Patrician was characterised by great amounts of energy, goodwill and optimism in this era. Still, the Brothers made up at least three quarters of the staff. The average age of the Brothers was below thirty. Some were not much older than the young men they taught in the senior classes. In their youthful enthusiasm, they found much satisfaction and meaning in providing a wide range of activities and general opportunities for involvement, beyond the academic, which engaged the interest and commitment of the boys and which gave the boys wide access to recognition and affirmation. Accordingly, Brothers readily pushed themselves beyond their secure and familiar zones to enable the expression of student talent, be it in a range of sports, in choir or music, in speech and drama, or in the Cadet movement. Fairfield came of age in the world of rugby league in 1965 winning the final in the Open Division of the New South Wales all schools carnival at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a prestige achievement in those days.
In general the Brothers could readily identify with the aspirations of families who wanted what was best for their boys and who had opted for education within the Catholic tradition. The biggest challenge to the school was to come in the mid 1960’s when the New South Wales education system undertook the most radical reform in its history. The Wyndham scheme mandated a complete restructuring of secondary school education, including a totally new and expanded curriculum.
The extension of the length of secondary schooling from five to six years, replacing the Form 5 Leaving Certificate with the Form 6 Higher School Certificate introduced an additional cohort of students into the school population, thereby putting an extra strain on already limited resources.
Presided over by a young principal, Brother Charles Barry, the goodwill, creativity and resilience of the staff successfully managed the mammoth changes associated with the introduction of the Wyndham scheme. The batch of students to sit the first Higher School Certificate in 1967 achieved very favourable results. One of high achievers in this batch was Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer and multiple medalist, Michael Wenden. It was a source of considerable satisfaction to the Brothers especially that Michael opted to attend Fairfield for his final two years since his performance in State titles, while at Liverpool Patrician, had merited him enticements from some high-profile schools. The serious drift of good students out of the catchment area was a thing of the past.
BROTHERS’ COMMUNITY AND STAFF IN 1967
Brothers Charles Barry (Superior and Principal), Aengus Kavanagh, John Gallagher, Malachy Guidera, Malachy Corbett, Finian Power, Serenus Quann, Gerard Histon, Columban O’Leary (Primary Principal), Xavier Rafferty, Gabriel McCluskie, Laurence Cassar, Rodan Bergin (Provincial).
The lay staff had grown to ten by now and included long-stayers Kevin Bourke, Bill Parker, Pat Tighe, Jim Cloutt and John Craig. All the Brothers were on the school staff, many of them occupying multiple roles as there were no formalised positions of leadership beyond the principal. Besides, there was yet no secretarial and clerical staff and no cleaning and maintenance staff. Weekends and holidays would find the Brothers working on the grounds, painting out toilet blocks, repairing desks and windows and a multiplicity of similar tasks to keep the entire plant in good shape. There were always willing bands of parents and students to support such chores and projects in generous expressions of solidarity and commitment. Strong and lasting friendships were welded in such partnerships.
In Rome, important things were happening in the 1960’s also. The ripple effect of the Vatican Council was reaching Australia by the late 60’s. Many issues previously regarded as black or white in Church and Religious Life were drifting into a grey zone.
The Brothers always shared the core conviction that their dedication to education was to help the boys grow to their full potential and to do that within a Christian vision and in a Catholic tradition. Ideally, the Brothers could best do this by integrating their own faith and spirituality with their daily routines and responsibilities.
The Monastery records of the annual visitation by the Provincial at this period make frequent mention of the priority that ought to be afforded to the ‘religious exercises’. The religious exercises referred to included common recital of the psalms, a minimum of 30 minutes meditation each day, and attendance at morning Mass and daily rosary.
Given that in addition to a heavy workload at school, many of the Brothers were engaged in evening and weekend activities for professional upgrading and personal renewal, it is not surprising to find the Provincial’s report at the end of 1967 lamenting the fact that a problem remains in that there is ‘a lack of punctuality, as well as irregularity on the part of some at morning exercises and Mass.’
However, despite inbuilt tensions, the Provincial invariably comments that – ‘There is an excellent spirit within the Monastery…’ and ‘The Brothers are doing excellent work in the school’
In addition to ripple effects from the Vatican 2 Council, there were also ripple effects from the so-called ‘swinging-sixties’that were not without impact in the school. Though minor by comparison with what was happening among students generally throughout the western world, there were bouts of restlessness on the local scene fuelled by anger over the Vietnam war and the sayings of Mao in his little red book.
In 1967 the Patrician Brothers responded to a long standing request from Bishop Doggett, the Bishop of Aitape in Papua New Guinea to take over the administration of a secondary school in the diocese. Brothers Charles Barry and Gabriel McCluskie volunteered to be the pioneer Patricians in the West Sepik foundation and went there at the beginning of 1968. Brother Aengus Kavanagh was appointed Superior and Principal to sit out the 60’s at Fairfield.
Towards the end of this decade other developments were taking place which were to have significant impact on the school in the years ahead. The Catholic Education Office based at Cusa House in Elizabeth Street, Sydney with Monsignor John Slowey as Director, had only a ‘handful’ of staff up to now, mainly Religious and a few priests. Apart from a monitoring role in Religious Education, the Office had virtually no involvement in the administration of Catholic schools, especially secondary schools. The Catholic education system was largely a collection of autonomous school communities administered by Religious Congregations. The Archdiocesan authorities now sought to introduce some level of centralisation. Schools administered by Religious Congregations were invited to become systemic, that is to join a system in which there would be a gradual centralisation of management. The Patrician Brothers, along with almost all other Religious Congregations engaged in Catholic education, opted to go systemic. Some prestige and high-profile Catholic schools, especially where the Religious Congregation owned all the property and buildings, at this stage became non-systemic and private.
Unification of the Catholic school sector and rationalisation of resources were among the reasons to prompt a systemic structure. Hitherto, all school fees would be sent to the newly created Catholic Building and Finance Commission which would undertake the payment of lay teachers and would make contributions towards local building programs.
Remember, there was still no Government funding for Catholic schools through the political climate was growing more favourable and minor concessions were in evidence. The number and size of Catholic schools had increased dramatically in this decade. If there was ever a time when Religious ‘held the line’ in Catholic education in Australia, this was it. Religious nuns and brothers especially, provided an unpaid workforce, which maintained a vibrant spirit in Catholic schools in conditions which would be unthinkable today.
In the wake of the introduction of the Wyndham scheme State education authorities were anxious to monitor compliance with the new requirements within the non-government sector. In February 1968, a panel of 6 – 8 Education Department inspectors spent a week in the school at Fairfield reviewing curriculum provision, teacher programs and registers, roll books, students’ work and examination results. This was the first time the school had ever been exposed to such comprehensive scrutiny. The panel highlighted lack of compliance in the time and priority devoted to such non examination subjects as Art, Music and Physical Education.
These observations were not unexpected as, in those days the school at Fairfield could neither, acquire or afford specialist teachers in these areas of curriculum and was also lacking in the specialist teaching facilities.
However, the excellent academic achievements of the boys in the inaugural School Certificate and Higher School Certificate assured a very favourable report from the panel. A contributing factor to the high standards of academic achievement was the gaining each year of small cohorts of very good students from schools administered by the Patrician Brothers at Granville, Liverpool and Blacktown. These schools terminated at School Certificate. As there were no Senior Catholic schools close by, the parents and students were happy to continue their partnership with the Patrician Brothers for the final two years of school.
Another positive outcome of the panel’s visit was the documentation of recommendations and directions, which were to shape the school’s agenda in the next decade.
THE 1970’S (1970–1979) – COLLABORATION AND FORMALISATION
Brother Aengus Kavanagh 1970–1979
In the early 1970’s the student population, Year 5 to Year 12, stabilised at about 1,100.
Just over 90 students sat for the Higher School Certificate in 1970 and the number of lay teachers exceeded the number of Brothers on staff – 11 Brothers and 15 lay teachers. Brothers Aengus Kavanagh (Superior and Principal), Vianney Foyle (Assistant Principal), Richard Doheny (Primary Principal), Malachy Corbett, Gerard Histon, Timothy Hayes, Christopher Finucane, Gregory Kerr, Anthony O’Connor, Canice Leonarder, David Sullivan.
By 1978, the total number of staff had only increased slightly but the composition had changed. Now there were only 7 Brothers while there were 23 lay teachers. Additionally, an ancillary staff of 5, mainly clerical and secretarial had emerged.
In 1970 Fr Martin Prendergast, who had overseen much of the early physical development of the school in his 13 years as Parish Priest of Fairfield, moved to Clovelly and was replaced by genial Irishman, Father Tom Crotty.
In 1972 the school at Fairfield was the recipient of one of the first major capital grants to Catholic schools by the Federal Government, a library grant. The funding of libraries and science laboratories by the Federal Government was the most tangible evidence of a significant change in the political climate towards Catholic schools. This trend continued and was considerably extended when a Labor government came to power under the leadership of Gough Whitlam in late 1972. The new government was generous in its allocation of more money to education generally, setting in train a range of initiatives and new programs. Simultaneously, the State government had initiated a trickle of grants to the Catholic system.
These diversions of taxpayers’ money in the support of a non-government system of education were the result of some delicate negotiations between Church leaders and politicians. Archbishop James Carroll of Sydney played a very prominent role in these negotiations. Had this breakthrough not come when it did, the viability of many Catholic schools, including Fairfield, would have been open to question.
The numbers of children seeking education in Catholic schools was increasing, the numbers of religious brothers and nuns in schools was decreasing; improved educational practice and a unionised teaching force were demanding more reasonably sized classes.
Still, by the middle 1970’s, teachers’ salaries on average were less than 80% of what their counterparts were receiving in the State system. However, an award had been agreed, conditions allowed the award to be reviewed regularly and favourably, a teacher classification system had been established and teacher salaries were being paid by a central body, the Catholic Building and Finance Commission.
All of these developments stabilised and enhanced teaching within the Catholic education system. About this time, Teacher Training Colleges, which up to now were mainly for nuns and brothers training to be teachers, started enrolling cohorts of young men and women who wished to teach in Catholic schools. This set in place for the first time a reservoir of well trained and committed young teachers available to schools each year.
In the early 1970’s, middle management structures were the exception in Catholic schools and where they did exist they were of a voluntary nature. In Catholic secondary schools especially at this period, there were very few lay principals and all religious principals were appointed and monitored by the authorities within the respective Religious Congregations. It would be the late 1970’s, early 1980’s for primary schools, before the role of assistant principal became a system recognised and paid position.
The context created by these external changes invited different approaches in the administration of the school at Fairfield from those operating in the earlier decades.
The notion of teachers ‘doing their own thing’ was reined in as ‘subject departments’ were created with designated department ‘heads’. The assumption was that groups of teachers working as teams in similar curriculum areas, under the management and leadership of an appointed ‘head’, would be a more effective way of ordering teaching and learning in the school. Resources had hitherto made it impossible to formally adopt such structures. Whereas the new structures had much to recommend them, their introduction was not without pain for many teachers, especially the Brothers, who had thrived and achieved remarkably, under a more spontaneous and autonomous model. The transition from a pioneer and largely self-regulated model of operating to one of co-worker and sub-ordinate was not without regrets and tensions for some. The Monastery records no longer devote a section to the school as school business is now dealt with at the school and involves various members of staff as appropriate. The formalising of internal structures and procedures, along with the mushrooming of system policies and statutory accountability left some with the feeling that this is no longer our school. However, these growing pains, part of a maturing process, did not detract from the development of a confident and lively school community.
The report of the Provincial, Brother Patrick , on his annual visitation in October 1972 contains the following affirming comments – ‘The happy state of mind of those working in the College is evidence of the wonderful spirit here. Another illustration of the excellence of the College is the manner and presentation of the boys on such public occasions as Arts Festival, Cadet ceremonials and Sporting fixtures.’
It was at this time too that the school adopted its present title of Patrician Brothers’ College. Mention of the Arts Festival here evokes memories of an ambitious initiative which had been embraced and which was to endure and to evolve over the years. One week was set aside in the year when individuals and groups of students would showcase to the public work being done in the classroom as part of normal curriculum. On a given evening visit to the school parents and friends could watch the presentation of a play, listen to reading or poetry recital, be entertained by music and song, see science experiments in progress and view student books and student works.
Another initiative of the 1970’s was the introduction of two programs to compliment the more formal curriculum offerings. Interest Electives for Years 7 and 8, Life Skills for Years 9 and 10. The organisation, design and implementation of these programs was a barometer of a creative and highly motivated staff wishing to enrich the total curriculum thereby broadening the learning and achievement experiences available to the boys.
The College magazine – The Rosarian of 1974 had an article which included the following notice: ‘As from 1975, the School Certificate external examination as such is to disappear completely and awards are to be made solely on the school’s recommendation’.
This major policy shift by the State education authorities had considerable ramifications for school administration and for teachers. Preparation of students for external examinations had always been a significant guide and driving force in teaching. This new development invited teachers to re-visit a fundamental question: What is the purpose of education?
Instead of relying heavily on set texts and narrowly prescriptive syllabi, teachers were now expected to develop school-based curriculum and to devise internal student assessment policies and strategies. It rebounds with great credit on the staff of that period, that these changes were managed so successfully.
Developments at State level in recent years however, whereby School Certificate external examination has been reintroduced for a number of curriculum areas, confirms a belief that many teachers had at the time, that the ideologically driven changes had gone too far.
In general, the 1970’s were a time of maturing and flowering at Patrician Brothers’ College. Excellent achievements by the students on a number of fronts projected an image of a confident and enthusiastic school community. Academic achievements remained at the fore; the College had emerged as a dominant member of the strong Metropolitan Catholic Schools competition; under the guidance of Brother Thomas teams from the College won the popular and televised Statewide quiz show ‘’ on a number of occasions; an excellent ‘work experience’ program was in place; the brass band expanded to a stage band as occasion demanded, under Brother Mark’s direction and was popular at many local and public functions. In 1975, the College First Grade Rugby League side won the inaugural all schools’ nationally televised Amco Shield. This achievement was repeated in 1978, at a time when the competition held considerable public interest.
From the early days of the school, a constant message to the boys was ‘strive for excellence, you can do it, you can achieve with the best’. By the end of the 1970’s the boys had enough evidence that the message was not wishful thinking and that with the will to do it, the rhetoric could easily translate to action. Staff and students were inspired by the art of the possible.
In 1978, the College celebrated an important milestone, the Silver Jubilee, marking the first 25 years in its story. A Jubilee message from the State Education Minister of the time, Eric Bedford, contained the following compliments – ‘Since it was established 25 years ago, Patrician Brothers had become one of the leading school in this State and one of the largest regional Catholic schools in Australia.
The academic and sporting achievements of the school in its short history are outstanding, a matter for great pride amongst students, staff and parents. These achievements reflect great credit on the teachers, many of whom have served the school and identified closely with it over a long period.’
A Jubilee concert was held in June 1978, at which the visiting Superior General of the Patrician Brothers, Brother Robert Ruane, presented special plaques to members of staff who had been at the College for 10 years or more.
The following received these plaques: Brother Aengus Kavanagh, Richard Doheny, Gerard Histon, Christopher Finucane, Mark Ryan, Malachy Guidera.
Bill Parker, Kevin Bourke, Pat Tighe, Jim Doran, Chris Scheenan, Bill Trask, other long servicing member of staff at the time who were to go on to spend many more years at the College were Jim Cloutte, John Craig, Michael Grainger, and Maurice Gili, while comparative recent arrivals in 1978, Ron Borg, Wayne Burns, along with Roberta Goehner were still at the College in the Patrician Bicentenary year – 2008.
By the late 1970’s a number of ex-students of the College had returned as teachers. Another event of significance was celebrated in 1978. By a happy co-incidence, the Silver Jubilee of the College was also the year of Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession of two of the Brothers who had a long and close association with the College, Brother Richard Doheny and Brothers Aengus Kavanagh.
A tangible legacy of the College’s Silver Jubilee celebrations was the Jubilee Hall, recently refurbished as a staff room and staff amenities area.
Though many good things were happening at the College throughout the 1970’s the curriculum offerings were limited because of inadequate facilities, especially those catering to manual skills subjects. After much lobbying and planning the Federal Government approved a major capital grant in 1979 for the Industrial Arts and Crafts Block. Ron Borg, who had come into teaching form an engineering and industrial background, had been to the fore in the design and trial of programs to bridge the curriculum and training gap between school and post school trade and technical courses. Ron played a very significant part in briefing architects and builders on the specialist requirements to ensure an excellent teaching and learning environment for visual and creative arts, including technologies. It would be a new decade before this project would be completed but it was assuring to know that, at last provision was being made for students whose dominant intelligence lay outside the traditional domains of verbal/linguistic, logical/numerical.
As this decade progressed, changing circumstances were inviting the Brothers to redefine their role on staff. Because of the government funding breakthrough their main purpose was not merely to provide a workforce. Their growing challenge was towards that of a collaborative and leavening influence.
THE 1980’S (1980–1989)
- 1980 Brother Aengus Kavanagh
- 1981–1986 Brother Christopher Finucane
- 1987–1989 Brother Mark Ryan
In 1980 Brother Aengus was appointed as Provincial of the Patrician Brothers’ communities in Australia and Papua New Guinea thus ending 23 continuous years on staff at the College. He was College principal in his last 13 years there. Brother Christopher, who had been the assistant principal, assumed the role of principal in 1981.
By the early 1980’s the number of Brothers on staff had reduced yet again and the number of lay teachers had expended dramatically.
The Patrician Province Newsletter of March 1982 had the following interesting news bite – ‘Fairfield, with a total of 1313 pupils, has the largest Catholic school single campus enrolment in New South Wales’
The teaching staff in that year was 70, reducing the overall pupil teacher ratio to below 20:1, a far cry from the early decades.
Unlike most other boys’ Catholic systemic schools in the Archdiocese, Fairfield had been allowed to retain Year 5 and 6 students. The Catholic Education Office supported the move for boys to remain back in their parish schools claiming that it was better to experience the K-6 curriculum in the one school. It was also claimed that there could be pastoral benefit for boys in remaining in their parish school for another two years. The Brothers have always held the position that the boys’ on-campus presence in Years 5 and 6 eased the primary-high school transition problem. Recent focus on boys’ education has strengthened a long-held view that boys do better in a single sex setting at certain developmental stages. In general girls are more advanced in physical and emotional development than boys between the ages of 11 and 15 especially. It can easily happen then that boys who are in the same class groupings with girls in those years suffer an erosion of self esteem which may manifest itself in undesirable ways, including lower academic achievement. All may not agree with these claims but this is the kind of reasoning that has underpinned Fairfield Patrician’s commitment to the retention of Years 5 and 6.
In its first 25 years of existence the primary and secondary sectors were mainly united as one whole school served by the general administration. As structures and roles became more specialised in the late 70’s early 80’s the primary school began to assume more autonomy. Up to this time, Brothers Celestine, Richard and Columban had variously acted as primary school principal through most of the administrative functions were served through the one office.
The primary school principal in 1981 was Brother Basil (Joseph) Byrne. Other Brothers in the community and working in the school at Fairfield in 1981 were – Thomas Rice, Gerard Histon, Paul O’Conner, David Sullivan, Celestine Mulhall, Anthony Visser, Mark Ryan (Superior) and Christopher Finucan Principal). The combined teaching staff for the two schools was 67. Additionally, the school support staff, including clerical, secretarial and general ancillary had expanded to 10. Twelve years earlier, the school had no such ‘support staff’. The clerical and secretarial role was filled by Brother Serenus Quann, in his middle 70’s, who would spend all of the school holidays handwriting school fee accounts for over 1,000 students. Most of the other functions of the emerging support staff were either done voluntarily or left unattended! This is evidence of how close to breaking point the school was prior to the advent of government funding throughout the 1970’s and also evidence of increased sophistication and efficiency in the management of the College.
The 1983 issue of the College magazine, Rosarian was dedicated to the Patrician Brothers who celebrated the Centenary of their arrival in Australia in March 1883.
The 1983 Rosarian also contains a record of maturing on another curriculum front in the life of the College. At the State level Institute of Industrial Arts Craftsmanship and Design awards of that year students from Patrician College received either first, second or third prizes in the following categories: Engineering Drawing, Metal Construction, Technical Illustration, Woodturning, Architectural Drawing, General Design.
The specialised teaching and training required to give these curriculum options to students was beyond the dreams of what most of the Brothers had envisioned for the school of humble and struggling origins but the Brothers took great pleasure in watching such positive developments.
THE 1990’S (1990–1999) – EXPANSION AND REDEVELOPMENT
Brother Bernard Bulfin 1990–1999
The 1990’s brought with it the NSW Education Reform Act of 1990, which had as one of its main targets broader retention of students to the post-compulsory years and in turn, the broadening of senior curriculum. This variety of pathways, particularly the vocational curriculum, saw Fairfield as one of the main pilot schools for NSW.
One of Fairfield’s strengths has always been the provision of a broader curriculum which provided the delivery of formal and informal work place knowledge and skills bridging the education gap and leading to higher retention rates.
Fairfield was positioned well to respond to the huge changes brought about by Government. The litmus test for us here was the immediate impact of these changes in our retention rates, requiring us to find ways of meeting these real physical needs of space.
This challenge, like many other in our past history, had no “quick-fix” solution. One of the options that was offered to us by the Catholic Education Office was to utilise some of the space which was vacated by Our Lady of the Rosary High School moving to Mary MacKillop, Wakeley. While this offer provided physical space, it left us with the real issues of a dual campus, fit-out and the time factor of student groups moving from one site to another. After much debate the best solution possible was to move our whole Primary School (years 5 and 6) to the Rosary campus and the secondary school would take over the area vacated. Br. Bernard successfully persuaded the Primary Principal, Br Celestine, as to the wisdom of this option. The close links of Years 5-12 would be maintained, the fit-out of the new primary site would benefit the teaching and learning of the Primary students and would provide at least a temporary solution for the secondary school.
Another dimension of the Reform Act, which we needed to respond to, was the mandatory requirement of technology across the curriculum. Our preparation to meet these needs was to present to the Catholic Education Office a detailed outline of our immediate and future needs. One significant point which was raised by Br. Bernard and argued strongly for the next number of years was the school in general was getting old and tired and needed major redevelopment. The system, and in particular Brother Kelvin Canavan, Director of Schools for the Archdiocese acknowledged these needs, but argued that current budgets and time lines did not allow for this to happen. The ultimate solution was to provide substantial funding to renovate existing buildings to meet immediate needs.
These circumstances produced for us a demanding result. A temporary Art Block, Music Block and a number of general learning areas were established in this mid – 1990’s period. Two bonuses were the renovation of the Industrial Arts and Craft block to a ‘real’ Technology Centre and the dream, which took over a decade to realise, was the development of the College Chapel. Immediately this Chapel, developed out of a former Biology laboratory, became the centre of the College’s spiritual life.
The unflinching Brother Bernard, who became recognised by all in the system as a man obsessed and committed to achieving a total redevelopment of the school, achieved our goal in 1997. The design brief established for this redevelopment, had at its core the needs of the whole school in responding to a fluid curriculum.
The next few years until the Official Opening in 2000 brought with it many demands, frustrations and great satisfaction, in achieving what has been recognised by many an excellent physical school plan for now and the future.
2000–2008 TRANSFORMATION AND TRANSITION
- 2000–2002 Brother Bernard Bulfin
- 2003–2007 Michael Krawec
- 2007 Wayne Marshall
As we approached the College’s Golden Jubilee in 2003 there was a real sense of pride and a feeling that the College was ready to face the educational challenges of the new millennium. One major financial consideration of the redevelopment program was the local government specification that the plant must be constructed to meet a 100 year rather than the anticipated 50 year flood requirement. This meant that buildings would have to be built a minimum of 1.4 metres off ground level. Whilst specifications changed, the grants offered by Government did not meet the shortfall.
The school was thrown back on its own devices to adequately resource these wonderful new buildings. As in past history, we had to devise means of achieving this. We as a College shared these issues with our broader school community and the response was sensational. A fund-raising committee was formed and over the next number of years fund-raising dinners, raffles, applications for special grants, and the support of generous benefactors provided a way of resolving these issues.
Brother Bernard retired as Principal at the end of 2002, leaving the school in a strong position to pursue its goals. The time also had arrived that laity in the role of Principal had to be considered. The school was very fortunate to have as the successful candidate an Old Boy, former teacher and Assistant Principal, in the person of Michael Krawec. With wide experience in the system, Michael brought expertise in the areas of leadership, curriculum and business management. His feel for the Patrician Charism, allowed him to build on tradition, as well as bring his own style to the task. Central to this task was the continuation of financial support from the wider community to complete the landscaping and embellishment of the College.
In 2004 Brother Nicholas Harsas moved from the Primary School as Principal. The time had also arrived at our Primary school for laity to take its role as Principal. After 53 years, in 2003, the primary school closed.
2008–2013 FURTHER TRANSFORMATION AND TRANSITION
2008 – John Killeen
2008 was a year of celebration for the Patrician Brothers, who celebrated the Bicentenary of the founding of the Order of the Brothers of Saint Patrick. When 200 years ago Bishop Daniel Delany established the Patrician Brothers and Brigidine Sisters little did he know the broad reaches the orders would reach out to. In Australia in 2008, Fairfield was one of the 5 Patrician linked schools involved in a range of significant events to marked this year. There had been much planning leading into the major events to mark the year. On St Patrick’s Day on March 17th, all school communities came together at the State Sports Centre at Homebush to celebrate the heritage of the Brothers, in a moving celebration of the Eucharist. This was a magnificent celebration by the Patrician youth in the Patrician linked schools, as almost 5000 gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. 2008 was also a significant year in the life of the Catholic Church in Australia, with World Youth Day coming to Sydney later in the year in July. The WYD Cross and Icon were incorporated into the celebrations on St Patrick’s Day, as the Patrician Brothers communities descended on Homebush and claimed it as their own!
Later in the year, the ‘Patrician Concert’ at Homebush was celebrated, which was a glamorous occasion as all Patrician communities were involved in this show of Patrician talent. A Patrician linked dinner to celebrate the bicentenary rounded off the year, as over 500 guests attended the dinner at the Liverpool Catholic Club.
During the year when the WYD08 week hit Sydney in the July school holidays, the College hosted over 400 pilgrims, the majority from Germany. There were many staff who catered to the needs of these pilgrims from Monday 14th to Friday 18th July in ensuring they were well looked after in a ‘foreign’ land. In the mix of this, the College had over 100 pilgrim students who made the WYD journey, eventually joining 250 000 other like minded people in celebrating the Eucharist with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on July 20 at Randwick.
The acquisition of appropriate high-end technology as a tool to broaden the teaching and learning of boys became a primary focus, further reinforced by Federal Government decisions after the election of the Rudd Government and its lap-top roll-out.
The test of these strategies was reinforced in the state-wide testing results in the Junior years, School Certificate and Higher School Certificate. These rewards are clearly evident in the continuity of lay leadership.
Following 2008 has been a busy period of consolidation. The ‘Education Revolution’ heralded by the new Federal government in 2007 came to fruition at the College, with the roll-out of computers for students in Years 7 – 12, beginning in 2008. The College committed to this emphasis on technology in the classroom, with all classrooms being equipped with data projectors. Added to this the Principal Mr Killeen provided all staff with a laptop computer – which was a welcome and strong commitment to the 21st century classroom. The College was fortunate to have the BER support of the Federal Government which resulted in the redevelopment of the Science Block in 2011. Since 2011 the College has been targeted under the ‘Smarter Schools National Partnership ‘ scheme, which has been a wonderful opportunity for the College to improve its approaches to pedagogy, further develop the capacity of the staff, and ultimately lead to improved learning gains and outcomes for our students. Needless to say, the classroom at the College looks and feels very different to what existed even as recently as 10 years ago. Technology does not stand still, neither does the College’s commitment to ensuring its students have the best facilities and high skilled dedicated and professional practitioners. Patrician Brothers College Fairfield is clearly the College of knowledge which exudes its rich Patrician Spirituality and Catholic faith.