Br Bill Wilding – Toast to SPC

October 17, 2018

A special toast to the history of St Patrick’s College was made by former St Patrick’s College Headmaster (1979-84) Br Bill Wilding at the College’s 125th anniversary celebration dinner at- Melbourne’s MCG last Friday evening:

Friends of of St Patrick’s College, I am honoured to share some aspects of our rich history. This year we celebrate the centenaries of 3 notable Catholic institutions here in Melbourne –

St Vincent’s Hospital, Newman College (Uni of Melb) and St Kevin’s College.

Yet when they were just beginning, St Patrick’s was already 25 years old -“ in fact it supplied young doctors to St Vincent’s, well-educated students to Newman and its Headmaster to be the founder of St Kevin’s.

– – – These questions need consideration –

  • How had we got off to this early success when our predecessor, Holy Ghost College, had failed?

  • How had our College established itself as a leader of boys’ education in Victoria so quickly?

  • What formed the spirit that has long been a mark of the College’s students?

    Our history begins with Edmund Rice founding his first school in 1802 in Waterford. His school was purposeful, welcoming to all, humane, & ecumenical in outlook. But from some who succeeded him came an emphasis that was on Irish nationalism, sectarianism, and a more rigid approach.

Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy who brought Christian Brother education to the 7 colonies of Australasia in 1868 was not of this narrow approach. He very quickly understood his new context in the great southern land that was so different from Ireland and he adapted totally. Treacy stated and practised –

-The school is open to all who wish to avail themselves of it, without distinction-.

He observed good schools conducted by other denominations that took their students to matriculation and on to university. Government schools then went only to the 8th Grade as did parish schools.

Treacy succeeded in taking the Christian Brothers’ schools in Australasia to matriculation level despite opposition.

Treacy saw first-hand the geographic isolation in this wide brown land and responded with the first boarding schools in the world conducted by Christian Brothers, first at CBC Adelaide 1881 and then at St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace in Brisbane in 1887.

And so when Bishop Moore of Ballarat requested Treacy to take over Holy Ghost College, which had closed after only 3 years of operation, he was more than ready.

Treacy had developed a clarity of purpose based on the needs of this colony and its people.

He insisted that the property, then just over 1 hectare, now 11 hectares, be transferred to the Brothers and that the full administration remain with them. Bishop Moore, who had done neither for the Holy Ghost Fathers, agreed and became a great supporter of the new College.

Treacy appointed as the first headmaster, Br John Ryan, who had experience with boarding at Gregory Terrace and who was then leading the Brothers’ Ballarat Skipton St school and so was known to the bishop and the people.

On 24th January 1893 St Patrick’s College began classes, with just 24 students, but this grew to 70 by year’s end and to 170 within a year or so. There followed a remarkable first 25 years. Very high standards of scholarship, sport, music & oratory were set from the beginning. The great leader of this early period was Br William Mark McCarthy- – often called – the Builder of SPC. He had acquired most of the present property by 1905, had built classrooms and science rooms by 1910 and the dormitory building by 1918.

The teaching of McCarthy in physics & mathematics, and of Br John Kenny in chemistry, was first class. I grew up with stories from my father and his friends of these great men. They engaged the best, including tutors for violin & orchestra and for elocution, and three from those early days who between them gave 50 years expert teaching – Mr Hatfield in science, Mr Jack Morrissey who began the football tradition, and Mr Jock Stanley ex-British army for gymnastics .

The tradition for educating Saints & Scholars was set. From the young gentlemen of these early years came Sir Hugh Devine -“ world famous surgeon, Sir Bernard Heinze -“ hailed as the most influential figure in Australian music, Sir Mortimer McCarthy – leading Commonwealth Public Servant and Chair of the Australian Tariff Board, Sir Robert Monahan -“ Chief Justice, Major General William Locke and Major Joe Fogarty- both MC winners in Gallipoli and France, Sgt Paul McGinness DFC, DCM – co-founder of QANTAS, and Albert Ogilvie -“ Premier of Tasmania.

As boys walked down the corridor by the dining room over the years, these notables looked down on them and surely lifted their aspirations. Volunteers to the AIF, the military chaplains and scholarship winners to Ormond College and later Newman were numerous.

Religious spirit was strong.- Those thinking of entering the seminary made no secret of it. Vocations were held in high honour and priests came in large numbers.

The pervading influence of the 1930s was Br David Gabriel Purton, a great educator, a kindly man who set high standards as Headmaster. It was the period of the Great Depression and many could pay no fees. When parents contacted him to withdraw their sons, he would hear none of it and they stayed. A group from those days led by Laurie Larmer used say that then only the publicans paid school fees. Laurie’s father had the Lake View Hotel.The practice of assisting families who struggled to meet the fees was there from the beginning.

It was in the 30s – that the great O’Malley legend began. This teacher/sportsmaster/football coach/communicator cast his spell for good over so many young men. While we have had many good coaches, it has been Jack Morrissey, Bill O’Malley and Howard Clark that have forged a lasting legend in the game.

What has contributed to the strong SPC culture? An ethos of success and competitiveness began early – my father and his friends spoke of it from their time in 1920s. A bonding amongst the boarders who were more numerous than day students until 1960, led to a healthy comradeship and sense of belonging.

I wonder if the challenging climate of Ballarat gave a hard resolve not found elsewhere. Did the disciplined teaching, the time spent in Cadets, the high involvement in team sports, the example of boys from the hardships of the bush -“ all contribute to the type of boy from SPC -“ robust in body, mind and spirit.

The 1964 annual records the valedictory of Barry Richardson, College Captain,

-Here at St Patrick’s you receive a Catholic education which is moulding your character, teaching you an appreciation of life, giving you a set of values, and so preparing you for happiness in the future– – – – –

Throughout its 125 years SPC has been an inclusive place. Saints and Scholars may paraphrase Treacy’s aim, but these include the ordinary, the unsung heroes; of the 20,000 students there have been fine Christian men, husbands, fathers, citizens, pillars of and contributors to their communities.

But we also celebrate those who have served the Church, the contributors in many professions, to charitable causes, the 84 who gave their lives in World Wars I & II and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Premiers, the Olympians, the Test Cricketers, the Brownlow Medallists and the countless AFL players and other sportsmen.

Powerful support has come to the College through the OCA, Parent Associations and more recently the Board and the College Foundation. In these organisations, great men and women have served the College well. From its earliest years the Old Collegians’ Association made a fine mark. Michael Kearney was in attendance at my first OC meeting in 1979 and still brings his enthusiasm to the table.

In 125 years the College has had very worthy leaders. Br John Dominic Healy took the College into the 1950s and gave to it our magnificent chapel. Br Justin Linus Kelty, the leader of the 1960s, gave us the extensive teaching facilities of the O’Malley Wing. The previous addition to the teaching facilities was added in 1910!

Dr Peter Casey, our Headmaster emeritus, renewed the fabric of the College in an outstanding manner and further developed the outreach to past students and to the wider community.

We have had over 500 dedicated teachers and almost 400 Brothers working for the boys, often in difficult situations. Most regrettably, a handful did not keep to the high standards demanded by the trust placed in them and damaged their students. We commend the work of the SPC community in recognising this betrayal of trust and the efforts to repair the damage and acknowledge failure. Present Headmaster, Mr John Crowley, has led these efforts admirably.

Today the College is a vibrant place, witnessed in its classrooms, in music, on the sports fields, in the places of social outreach, and most recently on the past battlefields of northern France.- The program for indigenous students, the social justice program and contributions of students to good causes are inspiring. Amongst the highlights of the last decade has been the outreach of SPC old boys to Africa and beyond; at Newman College an SPC boy inspired a record involvement of students in community service; our boys continue to be held in high repute at Newman.

Building on the great traditions of 125 years of forming young men, the College faces well the challenges of this age.

Brothers Treacy, McCarthy, Purton & Kelty would be very happy that their contributions have been built upon so well and that the College has flourished in offering the best for its young men of today.

So we ask a blessing on all SPC men and their families, and may the spirit of caring for one another, of bringing joy to living, flourish at SPC for another 125.

Let us toast these 125 years –

– St Patrick’s College -“ what has been, what is and what is to come.