The Pioneering Spirit of Catholic Education in Australia: Dominican Sisters

14 Oct 2021

Above: Music students at Santa Sabina College Strathfield, 1910.

The history of Dominican education in Australia is a story with a number of unique foundation stories. It began on the east coast of Australia in 1867 when eight Dominican Sisters from Dun Laoghaire in Ireland willingly accepted a request from Dr James Murray to bring Catholic education to the newly created Diocese of Maitland in New South Wales.

From Maitland, the Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia spread throughout NSW to the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Solomon Islands. In these regions between 1867 and 1971 the
Congregation opened 22 primary schools. Between 1867 and 1962 eight secondary schools were opened across NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. From 1876 four schools services were established for children
with special needs, including those with hearing and vision impairment.

A community of Dominican sisters arrived in Adelaide from Ireland at the invitation of Bishop Sheil in 1868. They established a religious community and school on Franklin Street, Adelaide. In the mid 1880s a larger boarding school was needed, and land was acquired at Goodwood (now Cumberland Park). This site became the home of the Holy Cross Dominican Sisters. In 1883, a group of six Dominican Sisters from Stone, England settled in North Adelaide to undertake nursing work. After many challenges and unexpected circumstances their commitment to their faith, prayer and service led them to move into education with the Dominican Sisters of North Adelaide opening St Dominic’s Priory College in North Adelaide in February 1884.

In 1899 another community of Dominican Sisters arrived in Western Australia from Dunedin in New Zealand at the invitation of newly appointed Bishop of Geraldton William Kelly. The group of five Sisters established a mission in the gold-mining town of Cue and two years later opened a convent and school in Dongara, later known as the Dominican Ladies College which operated for 70 years. The Sisters continued to establish a number of convents and schools across the Diocese and later opened and staffed a number of schools in Perth.

The Dominican Sisters also established their own teachers’ training colleges, first in Maitland in 1926 which moved in 1955 to Wahroonga Sydney, and separate sites were also founded in Adelaide and Perth. In 1963 the first central Dominican teachers’ training college known as Signadou was opened in Watson, Canberra. It provided training initially to both Sisters and lay women and from 1973 opened its training to young men. In 1978
Signadou was awarded status as a College of Advanced Education. In 1990 the Signadou Dominican College of Education operations was formally handed to Australian Catholic University for their Canberra campus.

From these humble beginnings Dominican Sisters across Australia taught and formed countless generations of young people.

In 2015 three Dominican Congregations (NSW and the two in Adelaide) collaborated to establish a new Ministerial Public Juridic Person (MPJP), Dominican Education Australia Ltd (DEA) to oversee six Dominican colleges/schools across NSW, Victoria and South Australia. The company was formed to continue their collective legacy into the future with four lay people and two Dominican Sisters appointed to the Board of DEA.

Current board chair of DEA Eileen Young said, “In 2021, the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia, DEA has chosen as its theme for the year ‘A Rich Inheritance’. In addition to acknowledging the work of those who have come before, this theme encourages DEA to look ahead to Catholic education for future generations of students in a world that, because of its incremental rapid change, presents new visioning for Catholic school communities. How we name and face those challenges and continue to build on and strengthen the mission of Catholic and Dominican education lies before us in DEA.”

Australian Catholic University, ACU’s History, accessed 2021.
Australian National Museum of Education, 2011, “A Tribute to ACU
(Signadou Campus)”, accessed 2021.
Dominican Education Australia website, accessed 2021.
Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia, The Solomon Islands,
accessed 2021.
Dominican Sisters of Western Australia, History, accessed 2021.

Images courtesy of the Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia & The Solomon Islands.


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