Patrician Brothers College, Fairfield
Short Version
[From College website]

Vineyards and a winery, owned by the Dreis family, once occupied the land on which Patrician Brothers' College now stands. After 1945 the district population grew rapidly, with many of the new residents being immigrants. Fairfield Parish was established in 1946 and there was a need for a Catholic boys' school. Mrs. Dreis agreed to sell their ten-hectare property to the Archdiocese of Sydney on very generous terms, and in 1952 the Patrician Brothers' Council agreed to a request from Cardinal Gilroy to establish on it a Primary and Secondary School for boys on the current site.

Construction of the original school building commenced in August 1952, and Patrician Brothers' College began in January 1953. Early enrolment figures were for 170 boys (although this may not have been at the opening). The first staff consisted of Brothers. Peter Johnson (Principal), Kevin Samuel and Eugene Kelly. Although the school was originally classed as an Intermediate school, in 1961 classes were extended to the Leaving Certificate, so that it became a full Secondary School.

Enrolments were strong, reaching 740 in 1960, and overcrowding became a real problem. In 1963 two classes had to be taught at Smithfield, and in 1967 the average primary classroom held 60 pupils. Inspectors also commented on the need for rooms for art and craft. All this was made worse by the fact that in 1967 the school had to add a Sixth Form (Year 12) to conform to the Wyndham reforms. In 1969 enrolments reached 1043. To meet these urgent demands a new Years 11 and 12 wings was built in 1967, incorporating six classrooms, two Science laboratories and an Administration section.

The growing demand for Secondary Schooling had forced the Archdiocese to try and organise Catholic schools into a system during the 1960s. Patrician Brothers' College joined this system and because a regional Secondary School for the Parishes of Fairfield, Cabramatta, Villawood and Smithfield. Another change was that government funding became available. This allowed for the employment of an increasing number of lay teachers. In 1969 there were 13 Brothers and 12 Lay teachers in the College.

In the next two decades Patrician Brothers' College was consolidated as a boys' Senior Regional College. It established a strong record of academic and sporting excellence. In 1996 a major program of refurbishment and construction began which changed the face of the school forever. The buildings were finally complete in 2000 and officially opened that year by Cardinal Edward Clancy. The new millennium brought yet another change for the College, as the first lay Principal is appointed for 2002, Mr. Michael Krawec.

After 53 years of Quality Catholic Education for Year 5 and 6 boys throughout the Fairfield District, Patrician Brothers’ Primary School closed its doors at the conclusion of the 2006 school year.

In 2007, after 5 years of leadership, Mr. Michael Krawec left the College. Mr. Wayne Marshall was appointed Acting Principal and in 2008, Mr. John Killeen was appointed as the new College Principal.

Full Version
Go Into the Vineyard, 2009]

“We [Provincial Br Norbert Phelan and his Council] were assured that Fairfield was most central for a school being well serviced by trains and buses and that in the very near future, the school would grow to a very large one.”

Thus reflects Br Norbert in 1967 on the beginnings of the Brothers’ school at Fairfield. He and his Council were certainly not led astray.
With the immigration population explosion of the 1950s and people moving west of Sydney, the Church authorities continued to ask the Patricians and the other Religious Congregations, to follow the people out west and to start schools to ensure there was a Catholic education available. Fairfield, thirty kilometres (18.5 miles) south-west of the Sydney CBD, had a population of around 2,500 people in 1900; by 1950 it was 38,000 and was growing very rapidly. However, by 1950, secondary education for boys was difficult with no Catholic boys’ secondary school between Granville and fifty-one kilometres (30 miles) south to Campbelltown. If boys did wish to receive a Catholic secondary education then Strathfield and Parramatta, which were many miles away and extremely difficult to reach by public transport, were their only options.

The Archives record that on 8 August 1952, Provincial Br Norbert Phelan received a letter from Archbishop Eris O’Brien , “on behalf of his Eminence Cardinal Gilroy” asking for a staff of Brothers for a new school at Fairfield.

In October the Council had decided on the three Brothers to make up the pioneering community; school commenced at the end of January 1953; the formal blessing took place on Sunday 8 March 1953. Present were Cardinal Gilroy, Parish Priest Fr Cunnigham, Mr Gough Whitlam MP (Prime Minister of Australia 1972 - 1975), many Brothers and parents, and, of course, the three pioneering Brothers: Peter Johnson (Superior and Principal as was the custom), Celestine Mulhall, and Eugene Kelly.

Peter had been professed a Patrician in 1939 and came to Fairfield with teaching and administrative experience at Wahroonga and Granville. Celestine, professed in 1948, came directly to Fairfield after teaching at Granville for four years. When classes began at Fairfield, Eugene, the only Irish member of the founding contingent, was twenty-one years of age and he had been living in Australia for one month. What an experience it must have been for him with the Australian insects and heat and accent all being so new.

So by March 1953, there were three Brothers and 170 students spread out amongst 4th, 5th and 6th Classes. There was a single, single-storey, six classroom, brick block for the students, and the Brothers were accommodated in a recently renovated 1909 homestead which was part of the nine hectares (23 acres) property and had been sold to Monsignor McGovern by the Dreis family in 1948 at a fraction of its value as it was to be used for a Church school. (The monastery stood more or less where the school canteen is today.) Nine hectares is a large area, enough for six to seven soccer ovals, and by the mid 1970s every square metre of the land was fully utilised.

Within four years of foundation, under the continuing Principalship of Br Peter Johnson (1953-58), the school had grown to a functioning Intermediate School (4th Class to 3rd Form) with 620 students, four classroom blocks, and with six Brothers living in the four-bedroom “monastery”. This gave each Brother around one hundred students to teach. Despite these conditions the students were doing well both in exams and on the field. By 1958 boys were getting Honours in the Primary Final Examinations and bursaries in the Intermediate Examinations. The Under 14s won the Cricket Premiership.

In 1961 the school was allowed to become a Leaving Certificate School (4th Class to 5th Form). This primarily came about as the result of the requests from parents and the lobbying by the Brothers. Up to that time there was no Catholic boys’ school terminating at Leaving Certificate between Strathfield and Campbelltown.

A mixed blessing certainly for Principal Br Aloysius Delaney (1959-62) as the new status and quick success at this level made the school much more attractive to parents and made it the school to which students from the Patrician schools at Granville, Blacktown, and Liverpool would gravitate to complete their schooling. In 1961 the school had a staff of eleven Brothers and six lay teachers including Pat Tighe, Bill Parker, and Kevin Bourke, with a school population of over 900. In an attempt to cope with this growth a few extra classrooms were built by Parish Priest Fr Prendergast, but there was still an overall teacher to student ratio of 1:53, the ratio much higher in the junior classes.

In the monastery there was a Brother to bedroom ratio of 9:4. There is quite an anthology of stories about these days, some funny, some scary, few which make the Brothers pine for the “good old days” in the Dreis’ “monastery” especially the two Brothers who had to live without a bedroom, one sleeping in the corridor and the other in the parlour once any guests had gone and all the Brothers had retired to their beds. But Fr Martin Prendergast (PP) had genuine sympathy for the Brothers and he was able to approach the feeder parishes of the school for money to build the Brothers a new monastery. The new monastery - the current one - was blessed and opened on 23 April 1961, one week before the opening and blessing of the new monastery at Granville. The Brothers had a bedroom each and were very grateful for it and for their new and salubrious monastery.

This period also saw the development of the school grounds, much of which had remained untamed since the school started. Brothers and staff gathered with parents and much heavy equipment and good will and by 1964 had created much-envied sporting facilities out of the vineyard jungle. The money for this came from a “non-stop campaign of bottle-drives which took place over a number of years” organised by Br Aengus Kavanagh who was a member of staff at the time.

It is amazing that in 1961 despite all the work that was being done in the classroom and on the fields that some of the Brothers could find the time to start, be involved with, and lead the government-funded Army Cadets in the school. Brothers Mark Ryan and Aengus Kavanagh became Lieutenant Ryan and Lieutenant Kavanagh. Many other Brothers and staff became officers in the years to follow. Over its twenty-three-or-four year history the Cadets made a magnificent contribution to school morale and reputation. In 1976 the government started to withdraw financial support for the Cadets, but the college so valued the contribution of the Cadets to school life that staff, students, and parents were able to maintain the Unit into the mid 1980s. A book could be written.

With the success of the school, the subsequent “imports” from the other Patrician schools, and the demands and effects of the Wyndham Scheme, the school as it was in 1963 quite literally could not cope with the numbers. In 1962 enrolments reached nearly 1000, with 505 in the secondary section and 473 in the primary; there were thirteen on the secondary staff and six on the primary staff (51.5:1). Principal Br Baptist Stenning (1963 & 64) had no option other than to find an alternative location for some of his students: in 1963 and 1964 5th Class was located at the convent school at Smithfield. Every school day for these two years, Brothers Baptist and Charles Barry had to transport students from Fairfield to Smithfield and back by bus. They took turns driving. It was certainly with some relief that in 1965, in line with the Wyndham Scheme, 4th Class was given to the Sisters’ parish school and 5th Class was able to return to the college site - perhaps not a relief to the Sisters though.

There are many Brothers who can still remember how difficult things were in these years, in all their schools. The many pressures they were under from both the education apostolate and Religious life. Can we imagine the pressures many were under? Hopefully not. The Brothers tell the stories today with a light heart, but no doubt with a certain number of hidden scars. No wonder their gratitude for the help they received from Priests, staff, and parents runs so deeply in their psyche. As one of the bus-driving Brothers recently said while reminiscing: “The times were tough, but there was a great spirit.”

Under the Principalship of that Brother, Br Charles Barry (1965-67), soon to be a pioneer Brother to Papua New Guinea, the school came of age in two important ways. Firstly, during Charles’s time as Principal the school progressed to the senior secondary class of 6th Form (Year 12). A new senior wing was built in 1967 to accommodate them. And secondly, perhaps as no coincidence considering Charles’s passion for sport, the boys won the Final in the Open Division of the New South Wales All School Carnival. A sign of things to come.

In 1968, as Brother Charles was taking up residence in Aitape, West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, to begin his twenty-eight year stint in that country, Br Aengus Kavanagh, already into his tenth year at Fairfield, was entering the reasonably new Principal’s office, an office he would occupy for the next thirteen years (1968-80). He was Principal of a school with 1000 plus students spread out from 5th Class to 6th Form, with a staff of thirteen Brothers and twelve lay teachers. In 1980 there were 1,300 students and sixty members of the secondary, primary, and ancillary staff.

In its first fifteen years (1953-67) the school, hand-in-hand with Parish Priests Fr Patrick Cunningham (1946-56) and Fr Martin Prendergast (1956-70), had completed thirteen different building projects; in the next thirteen years (1968-80), with Fr Thomas Crotty (1970-84), thirteen more projects would be added or proposed , certainly the highlights being the library (1972) and the hall (1978). The hall - now a part of the staff facilities - was proposed as a fitting way to celebrate the school’s Silver Jubilee, but the government would not fund the project. From 1978 to 1980 the school channelled all its fundraising money into its construction, a total of around $110,000.

Several of these projects had involved the improvement of the school’s sporting facilities, a very wise investment as most would admit that sport certainly played a major role in putting Patrician Brothers College, Fairfield, onto the New South Wales and Queensland map. To mention the sporting successes of the school would be to turn this narrative into an incredibly impressive and long list, but it needs to be mentioned that in 1975 Fairfield won the inaugural final of a National Rugby League Competition involving hundreds of schools, a competition it won six times from 1975 to 1992.

In 1968 the primary section of the school (5th and 6th Class) was placed under its own Principal for the first time : Br Columban O’Leary (1968-70). In December of 2003 Br Nicholas Harsas passed the Principalship to Mr Warren Loy who remained Principal until the Primary section’s closure at the end of 2006.

In 1968 the primary section had a staff of six teachers and 141 students in the three 6th Classes and 150 in the three 5th Classes. For forty years the primary section occupied the original buildings of the school, but in 1993 crossed the creek to be located just behind the parish church. In December, 2006, when the school was closed it had 145 Year 6 students and eighteen full-time members of staff.

What a proud history the Primary School has, excelling in anything it put it hand to, be it sporting or academic or religious. In its last years it was awarded several citations for excellence in education, both religious and secular. In its last year the school won the 2006 Parramatta Rugby League Knockout Competition and the TV school competition “It’s Academic” with most of the prize-money being given to our Brothers’ in Papua New Guinea. It was with great gratitude, pride and satisfaction that the Brothers gathered with the Primary School community, Bishop David Cremin, and Parish Priest Fr Jason Camilleri, on Sunday 12 December 2006, to celebrate the school’s final Mass of Thanksgiving.

During the secondary school Principalships of Brothers Christopher Finucane (1980-86) and Mark Ryan (1987-90), with most of the accommodation needs of students and staff being met, the building programme settled somewhat. The most significant projects were the building of the technics block in 1982; Mark provided much needed shading for the students, as well as the proposal for a chapel. Mark and the college Executive put much thought and planning into this proposal, but costs put it out of the reach at that time.

1980 to 1990 was the building “calm before the storm’”. Brother Bernard Bulfin, Principal from 1991 to 2001, with Parish Priests Fr Willian Dougherty (1984-90) and Fr Ray Gatt (1990-2001), planned and worked closely with the Sydney Catholic Education Office to create the impressive and state-of-the-art college campus we have today, a campus that accommodates 1300 students and eighty-four staff members. What a difference fifty years can make. Two of the main additions through this major rebuild was a college Chapel, seating one hundred students, and the college’s Patrician Jubilee Centre which can seat the entire student and staff body with room for parents and visitors.

Bernard was the last Patrician to be Principal of Patrician Brothers’ College, Fairfield. After forty-nine years and eight Patrician Principals, in December of 2001 leadership was handed over to Mr Michael Krawec whose experience of all things Patrician was significant, he having been a student at the college (1966-73), on the college staff (1977-89) the last three years as Deputy, and having been Principal of the Patrician Brothers’ School at Granville (1999-2001). Michael knew all about the Patrician charism, and sharing and continuing that spirit and tradition was integral to his role as college Principal.

There is little real need to quantify in any specific way the academic achievements of any of the Patrician schools: schools that have survived fifty plus years, years which have seen tumultuous changes in educational philosophies and policies, are still growing and have undergone massive rebuilding projects costing many millions of dollars must be achieving academically. With all due respect to sport and its importance to school life, it is academic results that probably had you on the map in the first place and which keep you there. In respect to Fairfield and academic results, to further quantify in an implicit way, being allowed to become a Leaving Certificate school in 1961 and being allowed to progress to a Year 12 school in 1967 is certainly a significant stamp of academic approval. Having successfully coped with the implementation of the Wyndham Scheme in the late 1960s and with a gradual increase in Government funding for Catholic schools, the 1970s ushered in a period of consolidation and development which added greatly to the maturing of the school. Roles of responsibility among staff were formalised, curriculum was updated and expanded, polices and programmes were renewed, and good structures set in place.

There are so many aspects to school life that create and maintain a school spirit and tradition. Academic success is one, but there are many others of which here we can only mention a few. The Patrician spirit or charism of prayer, hospitality, justice and “Christ-with-us” of the school no doubt originates from the sixteen Patrician Brothers who acted as secondary and primary Principals and the fifty-seven other Brothers who taught and worked in the school over the past fifty-six years. Men who gave their all for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the students, staff and parents of the college. And the Patricians still remain as a part of the college community, with Brother Domenic Xuereb as Mathematics Co-ordinator and Br Richard Doheny, a Fairfieldian for forty-one years and well into his senior years, working in the canteen and supporting college sport in any way he can. The monastery on the college campus houses six Brothers and all have a very close association with the college.

Perhaps a very few of the other many factors which have contributed to the spirit and tradition of the college over its history are the Army Cadets, as already mentioned; the college’s multicultural make-up; its amazing track record in sport; its provision for musical involvement; its long history of school camps; its association with the local business community, especially through the Work Experience programme; parental and Old Boy involvement; and the priority the college gives to prayer.

Like the society of which it is a part, the college has been enriched since the beginning by its multicultural nature. In the early days its children were mainly of Australian background with others either born or of parents from Italy, Malta or Eastern Europe. Today the family heritage comes from many other backgrounds as well such as the Middle East, South America, and Indo-China. For sporting results the reader can turn to the many issues of the school’s year book the “Rosarian”. Here it suffices to say that there is hardly a sport that the students of the college have not been involved in, the main sports being the usual: Rugby League, Soccer, Cricket, Basketball, Swimming and Athletics. Teams and students have excelled in all the school sports, and there are many who have succeeded in the professional and international world of sport. Again the Parents and Friends of the sports clubs of the college were crucial to this success. Sport was perhaps what put the college on the map, and no doubt was one of the very first ingredients to establishing its high morale. Music too has a fine tradition in the college and some very fine musicians have been taught by some very fine musicians over the years. There were the Army Cadet brass band, the very popular Big bands, Swing bands, Big Swing bands, and ample support for the many fledgling pop and rock bands. The Cadet and Swing bands too did much for the reputation of the college around the greater Fairfield district and much for the students’ sense of self-worth. And there were the musicals. So many - thirteen musicals over seventeen years (1976-93) - and so much work. Musicals from all the main genres: “The Mikado”, “Oklahoma” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”. Also involving a huge amount of work by a dedicated few were the school camps for the junior years. These were a feature of school life and taken for granted as such, but very much appreciated by the students involved. Yes, they certainly provided a “getting-to-know-you” opportunity, but were much more about the students getting to know themselves.

Over the years the school has introduced many innovative education programmes, but perhaps one of its most innovative was Br Thomas Rice and Mr Ron Borg’s Work Experience Programme. The college was one of the very first schools in the country to devise a working and worthwhile programme which enabled the older students, usually Year 10 (15/16 year olds), to go out and experience the “real world”. Many careers were launched through Work Experience, and this was the main focus, but also through the programme the college built up a relationship and reputation with local businesses and business people, a relationship that has been mutually beneficial over many years.

As with all the schools, staff and parental support were integral to the success of the college. Everything from being president of the sports or parents club, to giving an hour here and there in the school tuckshop, to helping with the never-ending bottle-drives and all the other fundraising activities, to mowing the school lawns, to coaching and/or managing a sports or debating team…the ways in which the staff and parents were and are an integral part of the story are nearly limitless. Also the Old Boys Association , a somewhat unique feature of the Fairfield college scene, “boys” who are grateful for what they received at the college and wish to give something back.

Finally, when we look at the college crest and motto, so carefully considered by Br Peter Johnson back in 1952, we can see why Mary and prayer are so central to the life of the college. In the early days the ‘Hail Mary’ was used to begin and end lessons, and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary to end the day. Students regularly marched the kilometre to church for Confessions, Benediction and Mass. And the tradition has continued with great richness and vitality, thanks to the generosity of so many local Priests over the years, to the Principals and staff who acknowledged and acted on the need for prayer in their students’ and colleagues’ lives, and the students themselves who have shared their talents and faith to make the opportunities for prayer so alive, relevant and fruitful: all to make Christ-with-us something believed and experienced.