The history of Mt St Michael's College, Ashgrove has its beginnings in Ireland where, in 1815, Mary Aikenhead began the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity 'for the service of the poor'.
The Sisters of Charity first settled in Australia in 1838, initially working to relieve the misery and degradation experienced by the female prisoners at Parramatta Gaol. In the following years, the Sisters moved into health care, education and aged care in New South Wales and Victoria.
In 1925 the property “Grantuly” was purchased for the establishment of a convent and school for the Sisters of Charity. The property had been built in 1901 for John and Jeannie Maxwell Stewart. It stands in an area the Indigenous population referred to as Killindarbin.
In the late Nineteenth Century Alexander Stewart purchased 250 acres of this land before he gifted a section to his son and daughter-in-law, John and Jeannie Maxwell Stewart, who built Grantuly in 1901. They then sold the property in 1924.
The following year the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Sisters of Charity combined funds to purchase the house and two acres of surrounding land, along with two adjoining allotments sold by a Mr Hanly.
Earlier In 1925 Archbishop Duhig had invited the Sisters of Charity to continue their work in Queensland. The Superior General, Mother Canice, travelled from Sydney to inspect Grantuly and consequently accepted the Archbishop’s invitation. Five Sisters, led by Mother Edmund, travelled from Sydney to Ashgrove via Toowoomba and opened St Finbarr’s primary school on the verandahs of Grantuly on June 1st, 1925. In 1926 Sr M Gerard Ryan became the Principal.
On August 16th, 1927 the primary school was moved from Grantuly to St Finbarr’s Church on Waterworks Rd, which now had classrooms built underneath. Grantuly was thus available to function as a secondary school and secondary school registration was received on 28th April 1928 and Grantuly College, as it was known, was officially opened.
It was in 1941 that the secondary college was renamed Mt St Michael’s College as it was believed that protection from a ‘warrior angel’ was necessary in the midst of World War II.
In 1994, the first lay Principal of the College, Mrs Narelle Mullins, sought to re-establish the reputation of the College with a strong emphasis on the Catholic ethos and the learning opportunities available at the College.
A huge commitment to enhance buildings and facilities was characteristic of the second lay Principal at Mt St Michael’s College, Ms Alison Terrey. During her leadership, the reputation of Mt St Michael's College grew to become widely recognised for its success in academics, sport and in the arts, and remains so today.
Third lay and current Principal Ms Sharon Volp brings an unwavering sense of warmth and renewed energy to the College. While ensuring past efforts are sustained, Ms Volp leads with a focus on wellbeing; identifying and meeting the needs of today’s students. In 2019, Ms Volp officially opened the new ‘Wellbeing Centre’ for students and staff, in conjunction with the ‘Innovation Centre’, providing students with a central hub for an array of innovative activities.
Sisters of Charity
In response to Bishop Polding's request for a community of Sisters to be established in New South Wales, Mary Aikenhead willingly sacrificed five well-trained and experienced Sisters for the new mission.
These were Mother Mary John Cahill, Sr Mary Francis de Sales O'Brien, Sr Mary Baptist de Lacy, Sr Mary Xavier Williams (still a novice) and Sr Mary Lawrence Cator.
On December 31, 1838, the 'Francis Spaight' entered Sydney Harbour; on deck were the five Sisters of Charity for whom the long journey to an unknown land was drawing to an end. They were welcomed by Bishop Polding of Sydney and a large crowd of Protestants and Catholics many of whom had never seen a nun before.
The first task of the Sisters was to bring Christian love into one of the worst remnants of an evil system – a gaol in which up to eight hundred women lived in degradation and misery. Despite difficulties in obtaining adequate accommodation in Parramatta, the work of the Sisters seemed to bring instant acceptance and improvement, for Dr Polding wrote to Archbishop Murray in Ireland in March 1839 that, within three weeks, an almost miraculous change had taken place in a gaol that had seemed full of hopeless misery, resentment and despair.
Today one of the features of the Sisters of Charity is the extraordinary range and variety of ministries in which the Sisters are engaged. This no doubt reflects their fourth vow of Service of the Poor. From the beginning, this vow was understood in terms of making themselves "extensively useful". Wherever a new need was perceived, they endeavoured to discern their response, constantly seeking creative ways by which to do this. At times, this has led to a new form of ministry, perhaps even to relinquishing a traditional one that no longer required involvement or was being well served by others.
The Sisters have a commitment to the alleviation of poverty, loneliness, suffering, ignorance and oppression in today's world.
Please visit the Sisters of Charity website for more information.