Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown
[From College website]
Founded in 1952 by the Patrician Brothers to serve the mainly rural families of Blacktown and surrounding districts. The College is set on seven hectares in the heart of the rapidly expanding Blacktown City. Located just five minutes walk from the Blacktown interchange, the College is easily accessible by public transport. Like our City we have continued to grow and respond to the needs of our stakeholders but our culture has remained unashamedly Catholic and boy-friendly.
In 1996 - 1998 the College was part of a restructuring of Education in the wider Blacktown district and this meant the loss of years 5 and 6 and the inclusion of years 11 and 12. An extensive building program was undertaken as part of this restructuring. The Jubilee Hall was opened in 2002 and 2011 saw us using the Patrician Learning Centre (PLC) which, as part of the B.E.R., enables us to utilise technology and flexibility in teaching. We are justifiably proud of our physical resources.
The College motto “Christus Regnat” translates to “Christ reigns.” We strive to build a community where “Christ Reigns,” in the hearts of all. Where students are encouraged to grow and develop in a community that reflects the gospel values of faith, forgiveness, honesty, hope, justice, respect, tolerance and trust. The students are actively encouraged to develop a personal spirituality based on the Patrician ideals of; prayer, Eucharist, community life and care for the poor.
[From Go Into the Vineyard, 2009]
Fr. Slowey, the inspector of schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney, visited Holy Cross College in 1950 and requested the Provincial [Br Norbert Phelan] to consider opening a school at Blacktown or Wentworthville. (“Foundation of New Schools 1942 to 1968 - Bro. Norbert’s Notes”, page 3.)
Like Granville, Blacktown was on the main railway line heading west from Sydney, and so when many people moved out of Sydney in the 1930s with its increasing land values, and when many immigrants landed in Sydney from Europe in the 1950s, a very significant number stepped onto a train and travelled the thirty-eight kilometres (23 miles) to Blacktown to what was once a mainly agricultural region but quickly became a working class suburb. In 1919 the population was 7,000, in 1946 it was 17,000, by 1955 it had more than doubled to over 35,000 , and fifty years later in 2005 it had grown eightfold to 283,458.
It was certainly an accolade to the Patrician Brothers that Monsignor Slowey approached them with this new and very difficult venture in 1950. It certainly confirms that the Brothers, who were under his inspectorial eye, must have been doing a most satisfactory job in passing on knowledge and passing on the Faith.
After conferring with Monsignor Slowey and Blacktown Parish Priest Fr Massey, and receiving permission from the Superior General in Ireland, the Brothers decided on a five hectare (13 acres) property on Flushcombe Road, Blacktown, to establish the school as it had better transport facilities than Wentworthville which was also being considered as a location for the school. It was hoped that the school would begin in 1951, but the building of the four-classroom school was delayed, and so it was not until Australia Day of 1952 (Saturday the 26th January) that Bishop Eris O’Brien, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney (and in 1953 installed as Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn), blessed and opened the school in the presence of Fr B. Massey (PP), Br Norbert Phelan (Provincial), and a large crowd of Brothers and people of the area. On the following Monday school began with three Brothers and 4th to 6th class students totalling 120. The boys were in their full uniform with school crest, both designed by the Principal.
The three founding Brothers were Gerard Histon as Principal, Basil Downey, and John Thompson. Gerard, professed in 1939, came with foundation experience from Granville. Basil, a Patrician for eight years, was, at Blacktown, the furthest west he had ever travelled in Sydney since his arrival from Ireland in 1949. John, a Patrician for twelve years, had grown up in country New South Wales and so had experience with clearing “bush”. As usual there was no monastery, accommodation for the Brothers always being quite secondary to establishing a school and building up its facilities. The Brothers lived in the Granville monastery, fifteen kilometres (9 miles) away, and travelled by train for the first two years and then, in 1954, by a very cantankerous car, until the Brothers built themselves a monastery at the school in 1955.
The population growth of the school was both dramatic and daunting and did not really settle until the 1970s. In just one year the number of students went from 120 to 229. In 1960, as a 3rd Class to 3rd Form school it was 890 that grew to 1,132 in 1977. Today, as a senior secondary school with classes from Year 7 to Year 12, the school population is around 1,000 boys and young men. Dramatic? We can see that. Daunting? Daunted for the first twenty years or so certainly must have been the Brothers and lay staff having to teach in a school where, despite the grounds being ample and eventually functional, teaching facilities were fairly basic and the teacher to student ratio was around one teacher for every seventy students: in 1963 there were 869 students, eight Brothers and six lay teachers.
When we look at the history of the school from 1952 to 2005 we can, as with all the parish schools established around this time, identify three fairly distinct eras. For the Blacktown school these were the foundation years (1952-1965), the Wyndham years (1966-1982) and the CEO era (1982-2005). Each era brought unique challenges to the school community, but always challenges attempting to respond to the perceived needs of the time. Fortunately, providence and Province provided, and for these fifty-four years the Brothers who were Principals always seemed to be the right men for what was needed at the time.
In the foundation years, the pressure was always on the Parish Priests of the area and the Brothers to do the best they could to develop the site and its facilities. It must be appreciated that there was no government aid until 1966, and the Brothers and the school were totally dependent on the good will and support of the local Priests and the parents of their students. Gerard Histon (1952-54) in just three years gave the school the foundation it needed to grow. Benedict Olsen (1955-59), famous for his oval-building abilities, worked with Fr Massey, and started the building and land development programme. Nine new classrooms were added to the existing four and two tennis courts and two playing fields were completed. By 1960, with the generous and grateful assistance of the parents, “the school had developed a distinct local identity reflecting parental pride and confidence which older establishments often find hard to capture.” De Sales Gilbert (1960-62), with his agricultural skills, completed the ovals. Patrick Lovegrove (1963-65), who was to return in 1989 and become the last Patrician Principal of the college, extended the monastery in 1965 and had to face the initial challenges of the Wyndham Scheme, beginning with closing 4th Class and extending the secondary section into an additional year: 4th Form.
It was this foundation period, “with a staff almost exclusively of Brothers, that saw new buildings, ovals, tennis courts and general play areas all emerging from the original untouched bushland.” There is no doubt that the school had been given a firm base to build upon in the even more challenging years to come.
The brunt of the Wyndham Scheme fell on the shoulders of Principal Bernard Bulfin (1966-88). The Wyndham Scheme, already referred to above, in effect meant that a school had to have an ample number of students with adequate facilities to teach them quite an extensive array of different subjects ranging from Science to Metalwork. When Bernard became Principal the school certainly had the students necessary (723), but it certainly did not have the teaching facilities. The reflections of one new member of staff in 1974 was that “facilities were pretty basic” - but that did not stop him from being on the staff for over thirty years. It was in 1966 too that Parish Priest Fr Law asked the Brothers about the possibility of the school taking on 5th and 6th Form (Years 11 and 12), a question which was to be asked several times over the years to come. But while the Brothers looked favourably on the notion, they knew that their first priority was the immediate needs of the school as it was. The senior school would have to wait.
So, from 1966 to 1978 the school was involved in a massive building programme that resulted in eighteen new permanent classrooms, six “new” temporary classrooms, three Science laboratories, new administration facilities, a library, a canteen, and two new tennis courts. The next major project that took place was the building of an industrial arts block in 1984. In that same year the demolition of the original primary classrooms took place.
As Bernard had brought about a massive transformation of the school in response to the educational philosophies and strategies of his time, so too would Patrick Lovegrove (1989-2005) as he led the school into the present era as a senior secondary college, responding to educational needs as perceived by the Parramatta Diocese and its Catholic Education Office. As has just been mentioned, from 1966 there was the wish for the school to cater for senior students, a wish that had to be turned down but which still came up nearly every second year until 1978 when the CEO agreed to the Brothers’ proposal to open a separate Year 11 and 12 school at nearby Marayong: John Paul II Senior High School.
This opened in 1981 with Patrician Brother Stephen Aitken as Principal and 177 students and quickly filled to capacity. A few years on there were 900 students, and remember this was just a Year 11 and 12 school. So, by 1994 the Brothers were being asked again to take on Years 11 and 12 at the school at Blacktown. In 1995 the CEO informed the Brothers that the Blacktown school would become a senior secondary school (Years 7 to 12) from 1998. This was to begin with the closure of the primary in 1997 and would involve a further physical development of school to add to the already significant building programme started in 1993, and would culminate with the completion of the college hall in 2002.
Despite the amazing successes of the primary section in everything from Rugby League to Debating to Chess, successes that continued very much so into its last year, its doors were closed at the end of 1997 after forty-six years, and after around five thousand had been students there. Eleven primary teachers and 130 students were there to say good-bye.
For the first twenty-five years the Principal was the Principal of the whole school, but in 1966 a specific Primary Principal was appointed by the Provincial and his Council: Brothers Richard Doheny (1966&67), Basil (Joseph) Byrne (1968&69), Lactean McGree (1970-72), David Sullivan (1973-80) and Columban O’Leary (1981-1986). Mr Peter Spicer and Mr Tim Simpson followed as Principals/teachers-in-charge of the primary section, with the last being Mr Richard Orley (1991-97).
Interestingly it was same year, 1987, that at both Blacktown and Granville, the position of Primary Principal was handed over to a lay teacher; and, at the same time, the notion of maintaining the Patrician spirit in a school, which was no longer under Patrician leadership, started to be spoken about. Primary Principals and staff were keen and committed to the idea that the Patrician charism must continue to be taught and caught in their schools.
In 1998 the Year 10s from 1997 continued on at the school as Year 11 students, then into Year 12 in 1999. One year before the new century and new millennium an amazing metamorphosis had taken place. In fifty-eight years the school had changed from a 4th, 5th, 6th Class primary school of 130 students and three Brothers with four classrooms, no monastery, but thirteen acres of bush to, in 1999, a Year 7 to Year 12 College of over a thousand students and seventy-four staff. There were still three Brothers on staff , and the school had a monastery. The school campus of buildings and grounds was the envy of all its neighbours. All this change had been overseen by five Brother Principals.
It was all about meeting the spiritual, personal, and academic needs of the students. That was what the buildings were for, what the Brothers and lay teachers were striving to respond to in a society that was becoming more and more secular, and more and more multicultural.
Over the years the school has worked hand in hand with the local Bishops, Priests, (such as Bishops Heather and Malone, and Fathers Massey, Law, Sedevic, Hanna, Bridge and Cook), and the CEO, to provide and develop the ways and means to make the students’ faith something meaningful, relevant, understood, appreciated, and lived. The school has always had the Mass at the centre of its prayer life, and thought nothing of walking its eight hundred plus students to the parish church nearly a kilometre away for Eucharist. With the building of its own small chapel and then school hall, school and class Masses were able to become more regular, and more grace-filled through symbolism, music, and student participation.
Personal and community prayer were an integral part of the school’s culture. The Brothers left their monastery Chapel open every morning to allow staff and students the opportunity for time before the Blessed Sacrament; classes started and finished with a prayer; and there was the school Rosary. The school would gather, and still gathers, once a week to pray the Rosary as a community. So many people have been prayed for by the boys and staff and so many blessings has the school received through this wonderful devotion.
In relation to personal development, certainly the religious programme had an integral part to play there, but there was also a need for opportunities for the students to be involved in a variety of activities outside of the classroom. Sport played the major role here, and sport also played a major role in establishing and maintaining a good school morale and reputation. The achievements of Patrician Brothers’ Blacktown in sports such as Rugby League, Cricket, Soccer, Basketball, and Swimming are recorded in the school’s year books to be enjoyed and marvelled at. Again teachers, parents, and sports clubs were at the heart of it all. But there were many other extra-curricular activities that developed the boy into a man. Blacktown was one of the first schools to introduce Interest Electives where students were able to practise and develop their interests and skills in everything from gardening to motor mechanics, and do it as a part of the school schedule. Public Speaking and Debating too are very much a part of the culture of the school. School camps for the junior classes are also considered an integral part of the education provided. And so much more.
Again, we do not have the space here to acknowledge the academic results of the school; the year books are there for that. In 1967 Brother Norbert Phelan, Provincial at the time Blacktown was founded, was so impressed with the school’s 1962 to 1966 results that he recorded them in his memoirs . Further proof of its continuing academic success is evident in the consistently one thousand plus college student population. But it should be noted that no sooner had the school addressed the challenges of the Wyndham Scheme than they were also being challenged educationally by the ever-increasing multicultural nature of the district and school. In 1979, for example, the school had students from twenty-one different nations.
The Patrician Congregation in general and Br Patrick Lovegrove in particular, wanted to be able to maintain Patrician leadership at the college, but by 2005 it was obvious that this could no longer be; there were not the Brothers available. And so in June of 2005 Br Patrick, who was into his seventies at the time, passed on the Principalship of the college to a lay person: Mr Santo Passarello who had been Assistant Principal (1994 to 1996) and acting Principal (1997) of John Paul II, Marayong, and then campus Principal at Terra Sancta, Schofields. Patrick is, at the time of writing, the last Patrician to be a Principal of a secondary school in Australia.
The college’s Golden Jubilee Year Book (2002) completes its history of the school in these words: “A seed that was sown fifty years ago has become a huge Alpine Ash.” Of course the Brother Principals played a major part in this transformation and all that it entails, but they would be the very first to attribute thanks and recognition to so many others: the Priests of the area, the Parramatta CEO, the sixty Brothers who taught and worked at the school , the school staff, the parents, and the students of whom Br Patrick was so proud and would often declare that there were “none better”.
In 2005 then, the college lost its Patrician Principal, but it is evident that Mr Passarello and his staff and the students are very aware of their “stewardship of the Patrician Charism” and are doing what they can to maintain and pass on the Patrician traditions and charism that have been built up over the decades.