Women for our Nation
Loreto Women in Parliament
In 1897 Mother Gonzaga Barry wrote, “Now would it not be a good thing for all Loreto girls to federate, in a great league for a noble end…” Mother Gonzaga had high hopes and expectations for the contribution that Loreto educated students would make to society from the very first days of her foundation in Ballarat in 1875. In the years leading to the Australian federation, which shadowed the period of the opening of Loreto schools across several states, Mother Gonzaga saw the potential, indeed the responsibility, for the first generation of Loreto students to be pioneers of this ‘newly’ formed, in the Westminster sense at least, nation; “There is no subject of greater, perhaps of as great importance to a nation as that of its women’s education” and for Australian Catholic women, in particular, she wrote “one must offer something special to Catholic girls whose responsibilities in their new country are very great.” (Clark, 2009, p62). Gonzaga’s exhortation to ‘federate’ called upon the graduates of the growing number of Loreto schools to join together as past pupils in friendship from across their different communities around Australia, but also to work for what was “good and beautiful, noble and useful in the world around.”
Mother Gonzaga wrote to her students about the importance of forming their own ideas and beliefs based on well-sourced information, rational enquiry and consideration; “Everyone has a right to his or her opinions, provided such opinions have been formed by a calm enlightened judgment after an honest investigation of the facts… (this is) a fundamental part of your education at Mary’s Mount.” (Cameron, 2014 p.16). Mother Gonzaga “encouraged public speaking and debating which she saw as a means for building confidence and invaluable for women undertaking public roles…” (Clark, 2009 p.63). This training perhaps points to her assumption and expectation that Loreto graduates would take up roles in the public sphere. (114)
Could Mother Gonzaga, let alone Mary Ward who also famously believed some 300 years earlier that ‘women in time to come would do much,’ have ever imagined that 120 years later, the Australian Federal Parliament would see four members, who are graduates of her schools, rising to speak with their vision, perseverance and values whispering in their ears? Historically, as a result of the May 2022 federal election, two new Loreto educated MPs joined two fellow Mary Ward graduates in the nation’s Parliament. Mary Ward’s name has now twice entered the Hansard…
Clare O’Neil was elected to Parliament in 2013 as the ALP member for Hotham. Clare graduated from Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak in 1998 and went on to become the mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong, at that time being the youngest person to hold such a role. Clare was preselected as the candidate for Hotham just prior to the 2013 election, replacing outgoing member Simon Crean. Having held several shadow ministerial roles in previous years, including for Aged Care, after the 2022 election, Clare was appointed to the Albanese cabinet as Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security. The first Loreto-educated woman to enter federal cabinet is a moment for our entire network to acknowledge.
Senator Hollie Hughes was elected as a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Party in 2019. Educated at both John XXIII College in Perth and Loreto Kirribilli Hollie has been a strong advocate for rural communities and, most notably, for children with autism and their families.
In her first speech to Parliament, Hollie said: “I want to take some time today to reflect on another strong woman whose influence has helped shape my path to this place. A woman who had the strength to dissent, to ignore what the hierarchy insisted upon and to resist calls for her to know her place, even to the point of imprisonment. A woman who knew, even 400 years ago, that women in time will come to do much. That woman was Mary Ward, founder of the Loreto order and ever present at John XXIII College in Perth and Loreto Kirribilli in Sydney where I went to school. Mary Ward fiercely believed in the education of girls and the enabling of young women to do anything a young man can do. When you grow up with the legacy of Mary Ward as your educational philosophy it never occurs to you that you can’t or won’t. I was encouraged throughout my childhood and education to strive to be the best I could be and never feel constrained by my gender or anything really for that matter.” (177)
The 2022 federal election saw a record number of Independent members, all women, elected to the House of Representatives, among them two Loreto-educated women from opposite sides of the country.
Kate Chaney was elected as the independent member for Curtin, somewhat ironically replacing a fellow Loreto (John XXII) educated woman, Celia Hammond. Kate is a graduate of John XXIII College from the class of 1991. Kate studied law and, with a strong family history of involvement in politics and community service, was encouraged to run as an independent by the grassroots community group Curtin Independent early in 2022. Her platform calling for climate action, integrity and transparency in government and a commitment to inclusive communities was shared by several other so-called ‘Teal Independents,’ including her Victorian counterpart.
Dr Monique Ryan famously replaced the outgoing federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg in her victory in the seat of Kooyong. Running as an Independent candidate, Monique drew upon a strong army of local support, during her campaign, including some former schoolmates from Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak. Monique graduated from Loreto Toorak in 1998 as Dux of the School and went on to study medicine before a career in paediatric neurology. In her first speech, Monique also quoted Mary Ward, saying, “I received an excellent education at a convent school. The nuns who ran that school were feminists who cared about social justice. Some volunteered in my campaign in Kooyong in 2022. The founder of the Loreto order of nuns, Mary Ward, said in 1612: There is no such difference between men and women that women may they not do great things? And I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much. I will be forever grateful to my parents for an education in which it was made clear that I could and should try to do much in my own life. We have in this place an opportunity to support education and to ensure gender equality in all facets of Australian life, which should never be taken for granted.” (137)
These women, to paraphrase former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, are not the first Loreto women to be elected to Parliaments around Australia and we know they will not be the last! They carry with them in their various roles, backgrounds, ideologies and priorities, a formation in the charism of Mary Ward and Gonzaga Barry; in that we share our pride and our hope that these women will do much to build a nation that respects gender equality, advocates for education and values verity, sincerity, felicity, freedom and justice.
Author: Michelle McCarty, Director of Mission & Student Leadership, Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak.
If you know of any other current or former Loreto-educated members of State or Federal Parliament please contact the Loreto Communications department at firstname.lastname@example.org