Holy Cross College, Ryde
Short Version
[From College website]

In 1808 Bishop Daniel Delaney established in Ireland the Congregation of the Brothers of St Patrick, and thereby sought to have the youth of his native land instructed in the principles and lifestyle of the Gospels.

The evangelical spirit was brought to Australia in 1883, when the first Patrician Brothers arrived to open a series of schools in various parts of New South Wales.

In 1890, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran announced that the Patrician Brothers would open a Boarding College at Ryde. In the following year the first classes of the newly founded Holy Cross College commenced in St Charles’ Villa, on the southern side of Victoria Road.

Six years later (1896), the College began the move to its present site. The great sandstone edifice which occupies the central position of today's College gradually rose on the heights above the Parramatta River. For many years it continued to dominate the landscape of what was then a predominantly rural area.

More than one hundred years of experience since has enabled the development of an outstanding tradition at Holy Cross. This tradition is evidenced in academic excellence, in results in sport, music, public speaking and other extra-curricular activities. The school is also fortunate to have excellent grounds and facilities which have been continually developed over the years.

It is the story of Holy Cross College, Ryde, that dominates all historical accounts of the Australian and Papua New Guinean Province. In the Provincial Council Minutes, in the Provincial archives, in the history of the Province written by Br Paul O’Connor, in the Australian centenary history of 1983, more is written about Holy Cross than about many of the other foundations combined.

This is certainly understandable. Geographically the site on which the college was built was considered by locals as the “eye of Ryde”: it sat atop one of the highest hills of the hills of Ryde looking out over Sydney in all directions. In a similar way the college was, for the Brothers, their jewel, their antipodean gem.

Full Version
Go Into the Vineyard, 2009]

Holy Cross was a Patrician college, not a parochial school the Brothers had been asked to take over, not even a parochial college the Brothers had been asked to establish. Holy Cross was the Brothers’ college, conceptually, spiritually, administratively, and financially. The Brothers could look at and did look at Holy Cross with pride - with too much pride was the accusation of some of the early Brothers - with its golden Sydney sandstone structure stunning against the clear, blue Sydney skies. The Australian Province had “come of age” and after only thirteen years. Thanks in the main to Superior General Brother Alphonsus Delany , the Australian Patrician Province was the first Province to consider and to build such a fine edifice. And the Brothers were in very good company indeed with the Marist Brothers’ prestigious St Joseph’s Boarding College (founded 1881) just a three-minute drive down the road; and the equally impressive Jesuit boarding college St Ignatius (founded 1880) just a few more minutes further on again.

The abundance of Holy Cross details is also necessarily so, especially in official Patrician Provincial Council meeting minutes and archives: Holy Cross was solely the responsibility of the Brothers. The Brothers had to determine the course the college took. The Brothers only had to find the ways and means of making the reason for the existence of Holy Cross a reality. And, of course, another reason why so much is written about Holy Cross is simply that, during the one hundred and twenty-six year history of the Patrician Brothers in Australia (1883 - 2008), Holy Cross has been a part of that history for one hundred and eighteen years (1891 - 2008). A Patrician Brother has been Principal for one hundred and eleven of those years, and certainly hundreds of Brothers have ministered to their charges in the classroom, in the hallways, on the fields and stages, and in the chapel.

Five Brothers took up residence at St Charles’ Villa, Ryde, in November of 1890 . The estate, immediately across Victoria Road from the current Holy Cross, had formerly been owned by James Squire Farnell, Premier of New South Wales in 1877 and 1878 . He built the home some time in the 1850s and it was given the name Squireville. In 1886 the house and 89 hectares (220 acres) were sold to Mercantile Building and Investment Company. The Catholic Diocese bought the house and two hectares (5 acres) from this company in 1890 for a retirement house for priests.

Holy Cross College began in this residence in January of 1891. To begin with it was a six-Brother, eight-student (four boarders and four day students) boarding school under the Principalship of Br Fintan O’Neill for the first few months, and then of Br Andrew O’Dwyer. Of the eight pioneer students we know seven by name: Brislan, (Mc)Connell, Cannon, Cooney, Gillespie, Joyce, Kernahan, Watkins, Duiscigan.

At first the Brothers regarded the St Charles’ Villa situation as a temporary measure: “later on to build a college near Rydalmere” . So the Brothers only took out a three year lease on the Villa at a cost of £81 per year. As a part of the lease agreement the Brothers looked after retired priests - Fr Athy and Dr Hallinan in 1891 - and did so to the satisfaction of both priests and Bishop Higgins (RCHC, p.2f).

The Brothers described 1891 as “an eventful year” (RCHC, p.2). Three notable events took place. Both boys who sat for the Junior University Examination were successful; Holy Cross was the venue for the first ever combined Patrician retreat, involving twenty-four Brothers from the six country schools and the two city schools ; and a wooden building was erected at the south-western corner of the villa, “consisting of School, dormitory and refectory and capable of accommodating thirty boys…at a cost of £360” (RCHC, p.3). However, as it stood, the Brothers knew that something greater had to be established.

During his eighteen month visit of Australia (1889 - 1890), the first Superior General of the Brothers, Br Alphonsus Delany, played a significant part in both the dream and establishment of Holy Cross. When he returned to Australia in 1895 (remaining until mid 1899), representing the new Superior General, he wasted no time at all in beginning what we know and see today as Holy Cross College. By 1896 he had purchased the land: ten hectares (twenty-four acres, more than fourteen soccer fields in area). According to the Brothers’ annals, the building of the new Holy Cross was not “just” about providing an opportunity for a good Catholic education; the building was also declaring that the Brothers were in Australia to stay , and that Holy Cross would provide “a permanent Home for our Brothers in Australia.” One hundred and twelve years later Patricians are still calling Holy Cross College home.

Despite some original reservations some Brothers had about the building of such a grand structure, especially what was originally envisaged , Holy Cross was soon recognised as the “Head House” of the Australian mission.

The doors of the new three-storey, sandstone college were formally opened by Cardinal Moran on Friday 3 June 1898. Br Alphonsus Delany was able to be present at the realisation of his dream. The Principal at the time was Br Dominic Rickerby. There were seven other Brothers on the staff, and, it would seem, no more than thirteen students .

The Brothers handed St Charles’ Villa back to Cardinal Moran in 1898 along with the 1891 extension. The Cardinal offered the site to the Mercy Sisters for a girls’ orphanage. The Sisters were delighted to accept. They reimbursed the Brothers for the extension to the tune of £91-1-4.

Unlike the inner-city schools of Redfern (1886), Forest Lodge (1892) and Waterloo (1908), which were instantly filled to capacity, it took quite some time for the student population of the college to grow. In 1899 there were only thirteen boarders, but from then on things must have picked up a little because from 1899 to 1911 the average number of students was forty-seven . This, no doubt, was to do with Ryde’s being primarily a boarding school and thus having to compete with the Marist Brothers’ and Jesuit Fathers’ boarding schools in the same neighbourhood. Also it had to do with the number of students the college itself could accommodate. Further expansion was required, especially as the college gained a very fine reputation for its teaching of Religion, the secular topics, and for discipline. The Brothers were fully committed to the development of Holy Cross as was demonstrated by the number of Brothers allocated to staff it , the precarious financial investment of the Brothers in the college , and the long hours the Brothers had to put into its administration.

The expansion of Holy Cross has hardly stopped since its beginning in 1891. There was, and is, always something being considered, bought, demolished, planned, built, and formally blessed and opened. There are several sources that list these quite comprehensively , so here we will mention only a few. And the reader should be aware that since government funds were not available until the very early 1970s that all the land bought and all the buildings erected before then, which are most of the buildings, were done so at the college’s and Brothers’ own expense with the assistance of significant benefactors such as Dr Higgins, Archpriest Sheehy, and Fr E. Gell, just to mention a very few.

Between 1896 and 1919 further land was being purchased around the college. This even included a piece of land on Parramatta River for rowing and bathing (1904-1938) . By 1919 the college had over 27 hectares (40 acres = 38 soccer ovals). Much of this land was used for agricultural purposes. But from 1929 onwards land was being leased and then sold to finance the college through the hard years of depression. As well as the building developments of the college, whenever such facilities as a classroom, a hall, a chapel, or a shed had to be built for the school, the Brothers sold a piece of land to finance it. The fact that the college did survive and grow to what it is today can be attributed to the forethought of the Brothers in buying land. This was the work of Brothers Stanislaus Bergin and Boniface Carroll who were both Provincials and Principals of Holy Cross during these foundation years (1899 - 1919).

The first major development was in 1908 when the school enrolment had reached sixty. This was the year when “completion” of the three-storey sandstone building was achieved with the addition of the “missing” eastern wing. (You can still see the join if you look carefully.) The completion was hurried on to have it done in time for the Brothers’ Centenary of Foundation (1808 - 1908). It just made it. Following quickly behind was a Science laboratory and new boarding facilities. But enrolment numbers remained low (fewer than 100) until after World War II (1944). After the War and with the arrival of many immigrants to Australia, Holy Cross felt the pressure to open its doors to many more day students, not just boarders. By 1958 the school population, boarders and day students, had risen to 350. Small numbers in today’s terms, but then a reasonable population .

The Principals during the following crucial years, especially during the 1960s, were Brothers Norbert Phelan (1957-59), John Gallagher (1955-56 & 1960-65) , and Patrick Lovegrove (1966-68). They were to lead the college through a time of considerable development with the building of the college chapel (1958), classroom wings and science laboratories (1963, 1967), and the shaping of college property into sporting fields (1962 & 1968). In 1971 the Gilroy Library was opened, the library having had several locations throughout the college prior to this specifically built one. Also, having had several locations, was the college hall. As early as 1970, Br Mark Ryan (Principal 1968-70) put plans forward for a custom-built hall, but it took thirteen years for it to become a reality during the Principalship of Br Philip Mulhall (1981-86). It was opened in November 1983 and dedicated to the Centenary of the Brothers’ arrival in Australia. The Principalship years of Br Stephen Aitken (1971-80) also saw the building of additional classrooms. Perhaps the most apparent physical contribution of Br Anthony Visser’s Principalship (1987-2000) was the beautification of the college property. A very full chapter could be written on each of these Principalships.

Before we finish this section on the physical development of Holy Cross mention must be made of Borromeo Primary . Holy Cross College had its own primary section, but Fr Phillip Reeve of the Ryde Parish asked the Brothers to build and open a parochial primary school on the college site. In the 1950s the population of Sydney was exploding and there were more children than existing schools could accommodate. The Brothers agreed and built the school on the corner of Victoria Rd and Cressy Road. The first stage was formally opened and blessed on 3 August 1958 by Bishop Freeman in the presence of the local mayor Mr J. Donovan, Rev. Dr C. Duffy, and three hundred parishioners. The building contained four classrooms, offices, and a toilet. The founding Principal was Br Finian Power (1958 - 1960). By 1961 the 3rd to 6th Class school had an enrolment of 275 and its own year book: “The Primarian” . A second and final stage opened in 1962 . The feeder schools for Borromeo were Ryde, North Ryde, Gladesville, Hunters Hill, and Drummoyne. In 1965, in line with the Wyndham Scheme, the school was reduced to just 5th and 6th classes. In 1968 Borromeo was incorporated into Holy Cross.

An excellent reputation and successes of every kind were achieved under the Principalships of Br Finian, Br Kevin Samuel (1961 - 1965), Br Lactean McGree (1966 - 1968), and Br John Thompson (1969 - 1983). However, as early as 1982 pressure was being brought to bear on the college by the Catholic Education Office that the school be closed and the 5th and 6th Class students be retained by their respective feeder schools. At this time Borromeo had eight classes, a Special Education room, and a library.

The matter settled until 1985 when, during the Principalship of Br Paul O’Keeffe (1984 - 1986), pressure was again put on the Brothers and Fr Vince Redden (Ryde P.P.) from local feeder schools and the Sydney Catholic Education Office to close the primary section. The feeder schools wished to retain their boys. The Brothers and many parents wanted the school to continue, but in April of 1985 the CEO formally announced that 1986 would be the primary section’s last year. In December of 1986, seven staff members, including five teachers, and one hundred and thirty-four Year 6 students left the school grounds for the last time. Two very disappointed parents commented in a letter to the Director of Schools, Br Simmons: “…We have one child attending this school…and we could not be happier with his integration and the co-operation we have received from his teachers and Bro. Paul. There is a fantastic team spirit and the boys are justifiably very proud of and interested in their school.” With the closure of the primary section Holy Cross became a secondary school only.

Speaking about closures, Holy Cross began primarily as a boarding school but in December, 1972, its dormitories fell silent. For eighty-two years the college had accepted boarders from all over country New South Wales as well as from Asia and Papua New Guinea. It had all started humbly in 1891 with just four boarders, and boarder numbers always remained humble compared to those of the nearby Marist and Jesuit boarding schools. The dormitories reached their bursting point in the 1960s with over one hundred and thirty occupants. However, the boarding section of the college eventually placed a disproportionate pressure on the community of Brothers, on school facilities, and on college and Congregational finances. In May, 1971, it was with deep regret and with some “misgivings” that Provincial Brother Patrick Lovegrove gave permission for the boarding section of the college to be closed at the end of 1972.

Now what was taking place inside the halls and classrooms of Holy Cross from 1891 to 2008 as it progressed from an eight-student boarding school using “borrowed” facilities, to a multi-hectare day school of mostly college/Congregationally-owned, modern educational facilities, accommodating the needs of close to 700 students?

In 1911 Holy Cross formed its very first military Cadet Unit. This was a Commonwealth Government national initiative and was fully funded by the Commonwealth Government. The Unit’s story is a full and proud one lasting until 1974 when, with the withdrawal of government funds, it had to be disbanded. In 1915 the college had 50 cadets, in 1956 108 cadets, and in 1970 the full complement was 154 Officers and men. Included in these numbers were many Brothers and lay staff, one of the most outstanding being Brother/Lieutenant Finian Power and Brother/Captain Majella Tobin.
Music has always played a significant part in history of the college, and some outstanding achievements were gained as early as the 1930s. Br Majella Tobin and Br Mark Ryan are names synonymous with music and brass bands at Holy Cross. Br Mark’s 1967 brass band gained public distinction, and he spent years taking the band here and there to entertain at public functions, at school functions, and to inspire at significant football matches. In 1982 the school band produced its own music LP record “Tuning Up”. In 2008 the music tradition continues, and Br Mark is still contributing to that tradition.

For something completely different and unique to Holy Cross, at least to begin with, was its bold move into technology and computers in the 1990s and into the future. In 1994, under the innovative and technically competent Principalship of Br Anthony Visser (Principal 1987-2000), the college began its Technology Enabled Class (TEC) programme. In its very simplest terms this meant a class of students would use computer laptops to assist them in their lessons, but it also meant making information technically accessible throughout the whole school for all students. At first TEC was intended to involve only about a third of the Year 7 and Year 8 cohorts who elected to be in the programme, but it soon expanded to Years 9 and 10 as well. Under the visionary leadership of Br Anthony, Holy Cross led the way in technology-assisted education, and the college is still following his course today.

These last three paragraphs present a sample only of the holistic approach to education that took place at Holy Cross during its years of Patrician leadership (1891 - 2002). In the formal classroom everything, from Wool Classing to Latin to Robotics, has been taught. Extra-curricular activities have abounded with students gaining significant skills and successes in such pursuits as chess, public speaking, and the many different aspects of life in the bush. School plays and concerts were a way of life with presentation of such classics as “Julius Caesar” in 1909, “Calamity Jane” in 1968 and the winning of the inaugural Christian Rock Eisteddfod in 1997.

“What has Poetry ever done for the reputation of the college?” was a retort a Brother once threw at another Brother at the breakfast table at Ryde when discussing the contributions of academia to those of sport in regards to school morale and reputation. A touché to the sporting Brother perhaps when one looks at the history of sport in the college. There is no way of condensing 111 years of sport into a paragraph or two; we could not even do the history of Boxing, Rowing, or Rugby Union justice in such a limited space. All we can do is to mention a very few very major achievements in the high-profile sporting arenas of Tennis, Swimming, Cricket, Soccer and Rugby League: the college has competed in at least fourteen different sports over the years.

There have been tennis courts at Holy Cross since 1913. The golden years were arguably between the 1950s through to the 1970s. Names synonymous with Holy Cross Tennis were coach Mr Bert Newman and keen supporter Br Patrick Lovegrove. In the 1980s student Peter Petrovsky was rated in the top ten of Australian players. Swimming records do not appear until 1945, first major successes coming in 1955 in the Patrician Brothers’ Carnival held at Granville. In 1961 the Ryde Swimming Centre was built immediately across from the college and it “marked a milestone in the history of swimming at Holy Cross College” . By the late 1960s Holy Cross was taking home quite a few of the major combined carnival trophies. Successes have been intermittent ever since. The college’s First Eleven (cricket) made its first magazine appearance in 1909. A significant achievement in those early years was Eddie Newson’s 318 not out in 1928 in the Gladesville competition. Br John Gallagher’s U/14s won the 1957 M.C.S. competition; the First XI teams of 1962 and 1976 took home all the awards. Soccer is the “new boy” at Holy Cross - if you exclude Basketball - making its first appearance in 1959 “to cater for students from overseas who were strangers to Rugby League.” It was a slow start for Soccer: by 1970 there were just three teams. First success came in 1976 when the Under 15s took out their premiership. But by 1983 the college boasted twenty teams in the local competition. Perhaps the greatest achievement in college Soccer was in 1997 when Holy Cross won four of the five M.C.S. soccer competitions, including the A-Grade team. Several ex-students have played overseas. The final sport to mention is Rugby League and while we can only give it a very superficial glance, it requires a new paragraph.

Certainly Rugby League did provide Holy Cross with a very high profile in Sydney and New South Wales. Poetry could not compare. It all began in the early 1900s with Rugby Union, a code which brought the college success but which changed to Rugby League in 1928 with immediate significant success. Successes were many over the decades to follow: too many to even consider listing here. Photos of champion teams are a plenty, and many of these feature the numerous Brothers who were heavily involved with and committed to the code: Gallagher and Tobin (1950s), Lovegrove and Olsen (1960s), Aitken and O’Leary (1970s), to mention some. The 1980s were certainly a golden era in the history of League at the college with successes in both the M.C.S. competition as well as the national schoolboys’ competition then called the Commonwealth Cup and with a game televised weekly. In 1981 Holy Cross won the competition playing in the final against Patrician Brothers Fairfield, and in 1982 playing against Fairfield again in the Final but this time Fairfield walking away with the win. Recent years have also brought many successes. So many students have gone on to play Rugby League internationally and professionally. Recently there were such greats as Ben Elias and Paul Sironen.

Holy Cross’s commitment to a holistic approach to education has already been mentioned. In the 1913 School Annual it is stated that the “inculcation of Religion, the pursuit of study, the development of the whole man - morally, intellectually and physically - these are our ideals and by them we will stand.” The college’s success in this can be gauged by the fruit of this goal. Examination groups held their own in the many and varied public examinations (University, Public Service, Commercial, School Certificate, and Higher School Certificate) that have taken place from the very first year of 1891 over the decades to 2008. Some names associated with individual brilliance and examination successes are J.M. Braid (1920s), John White and John Geary (1939), Roland Song (1969); five students were in the top 1% of the Higher School Certificate (1984); Shaun Moriarty (1995), and Alex Router-Town (2004), just to mention a very few. Ex-students such as J.B. Renshaw (1921, Premier of NSW), Ignatius Doggett (1926, Bishop), Ronnie Cross (1936, Supreme Court Judge), and Peter Evans (1953, Brigadier), also suggest Holy Cross as a source of a sound education.

We will have to conclude this very superficial examination of the history of Holy Cross. So much more could be written - and has been written elsewhere. The construction of the many playing fields of the college warrants a chapter to itself: Soccer, Rugby League, Cricket, Tennis, and Basketball matches have all taken place at the college, even simultaneously. They are a tribute to the spirit of the Brothers (Brother Benedict Olsen being one Brother who should be mentioned) and parents who created them.

From 1891 to 2008 over 130 Brothers lived and taught at Holy Cross. From 1902 to the early 1990s community numbers averaged around nine Brothers, the largest community consisting of fifteen Brothers in 1972. Twenty-three Brothers had been Principal between 1891 and 2002, when the Principalship of Holy Cross College was handed over to Mr Garry Williams. The founding Principal was Brother Fintan O’Neill (1891) and the last Principal was Brother Matthew Mahoney (2001 & 2002). The longest serving Principal was Brother Anthony Visser (1987 - 2000). At the time of the writing of this history, the last Brother to be teaching full-time in the college was Br Mark Ryan which is certainly very fitting as he was himself an ex-student and ex-Principal of Holy Cross.

In 2020 Holy Cross continues to be home for a Patrician community of four, and there is no reason why this will not continue for quite a few more years to come.