St. Mary’s Cathedral College is founded in the Christian Brothers tradition and administered by Sydney Catholic Schools, Eastern Region.
A Catholic school has been a constant presence on the College’s current site, immediately east of St Mary’s Cathedral, since 1824. While the presence has been continuous, the leadership has been varied, including almost all of Australia’s distinguished pedagogical religious orders at one time or another. The school was staffed by Benedictine monks from 1824–1882; by Marist Brothers from 1883–1910, assisted by Sisters of Charity (1883–1967); and by the Christian Brothers for over a century, beginning in 1911. While the close relationship with the Christian Brothers and the charism of Blessed Edmund Rice remains an essential element of the College’s mission and ethos, since 2016 the College has been led by Mr Michael Kelleher, the first lay Principal, and staffed exclusively by lay teachers.
Fr John Therry established the initial school on the site as an elementary school and in its early decades accommodated both boys and girls. In the middle decades of the 19th century, a number of lay teachers paid from Government funding worked alongside the Benedictine Monks, until 1882 when Government funding was withdrawn. Archbishop Vaughan asked for Religious Orders to run the school, and the Sisters of Charity worked alongside the Marist Brothers in operating a girls and boys elementary schools respectively. In 1887 the initial secondary schools were opened alongside the primary schools. It was under the stewardship of the Christian Brothers that the College developed the spirit that is still apparent today.
In 1910 Cardinal Moran (for whom the most successful of the College’s sporting houses is named) requested of Br Barron, the Christian Brothers’ Provincial, that a group of Christian Brothers begin work at what was then St Mary’s Parochial Primary School. In the first decade of their leadership the Brothers expanded the size of the buildings (encompassing four floors from 1914, the bottom of which served as a school for primary school boys, the intermediate two levels educating girls under the care of the Sisters of Charity, and the uppermost level the Brothers’ living quarters) and then the scope of the education, taking boys to the Intermediate Certificate (current Year 10 equivalent). This remained the basis of the school, which became the Christian Brothers High School, St Mary’s Cathedral, until the Leaving Certificate was firmly established by the reforming Labor government of 1945. The Wyndham Report, which from 1961 added an extra year of tuition and a more robust examination regimen (the HSC), expanded the educational remit of the school still further.
The changing nature of education and the altered demography of the Sydney CBD in these decades had an important effect in shaping the school’s population. As the residential population of the CBD declined, enrolments needed to be drawn from a wider geographical area. Br Gygar (Principal, 1938–1942) sought and gained registration as the ‘Cathedral Choir School’, which allowed students to travel free on public transport from outside the city’s centre. This not only solved the problem of declining enrolments but also helped develop the musical character of the education offered at the school, an importance that has persisted till today and which is best expressed in the annual Cathedral Concerts held in the Sydney Town Hall. And while the school ceased to admit junior Primary students from the mid-1970s, the College’s connection to the Cathedral Choir continued as a composite Year 5–6 class was maintained. This has since been expanded to include a composite Year 3–4 class.
The growing population of the school and the challenges of meeting the needs of a diverse curriculum meant that by the 1980s the school’s 1912 building was no longer fit for purpose. Br Hoffman (Principal, 1985–2000), supported by then-Archbishop Clancy, made the decision to demolish the existing building, build a new school on the existing site, and continue the education of the boys at Waverton while this complex task was accomplished. In 1987 St Mary’s Cathedral School, Waverton, began operations in the refurbished naval storage sheds. In 1992 students and staff returned to the location in the shadow of the Cathedral, now graced with a stylish structure built around an open quadrangle and including state-of-the-art science labs, a technics block, and a library named for Cardinal Freeman, an old boy of the school. The new school also had a new name: St Mary’s Cathedral College.
St Mary’s Cathedral College Today
While many of the classrooms have been modernised further in the thirty years since, and while the haircuts of students preserved on Year 12 photos have altered to meet prevailing fashions, the mission of the College has remained the same. Students are educated in an environment where they are encouraged to develop spiritually, emotionally, and academically. Positive pastoral relationships between staff and students and between students across year groups make the College a place where boys feel safe, nurtured, and valued. The College, while now a part of Sydney Catholic Schools, maintains close relationships with Christian Brothers’ schools through sporting ties and an affiliation with Edmund Rice Education Australia. The proximity to the Cathedral is more than geographical: students continue to serve as choristers and scholars, and many students are involved in altar serving and in other aspects of the liturgy. The Catholic mission of caring for those less fortunate is exemplified in the close relationship the College enjoys with the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Woolloomooloo, where senior students volunteer three times per week in staffing the hostel’s dining room and cafeteria.
In the years since 1992 the College has become one of the most academically successful non-selective boys’ schools in NSW. The College has often been placed in the top 100 schools in the state on the HSC Merit list and many students have been among the top-placed students in the state in individual exams. As important as these attainments are, even more crucial is the manner in which the College helps form young men who are equipped to become the next leaders of their communities: young men who are proud of their association with the school and its motto, Facere et Docere, ‘To do and to Teach’.