Listen. Speak. Engage. Loreto’s Mission at St Mary’s College
As early as 1888, Mother Gonzaga Barry, the founder of the Loreto Sisters in Australia, had set her heart on establishing an educational centre close to Melbourne University. One day looking from her carriage she noticed the beautiful mansion, Barbiston, in The Avenue, Parkville, commenting “that’s the place I would like”.
In 1895 she made an official request to the Chancellor of the University and the then Archbishop of Melbourne, seeking approval for her plan to buy and administer a ‘Hostel’ for young Catholic women studying at the University. Undoubtedly Mother Gonzaga Barry was a visionary. She had an advanced view of women’s education and the academic possibilities that were becoming available to them.
In 1918 the original plan was realised and, on the 17th March the same year, St Mary’s Hall was officially opened with a community of eight Loreto Sisters and 16 students. In 1966 the Loreto Sisters and students moved from The Avenue to a site on the University campus, next door to Newman College. St Mary’s College has stood for over 50 years on this site, on land granted to the Catholic Bishops of Victoria.
In 1977 St Mary’s accepted the first male students who are, to this day, integral to the life of the College, as are the members, past and present, of the College Council, and the many tutors and staff who embraced the values of this community.
Having lived in Timor Leste for some years Sister Natalie Houlihan ibvm has, since her return, worked two days a week with the community of St Mary’s College. Natalie’s role is to be present to the community listening, speaking and being completely engaged.
“Relationships and belonging are so key to my way of being. To give myself fully to another by being present is probably the best gift I can give to another.”
Natalie describes the gift of presence as something which can be truly transformative – knowing that you have been sincerely heard instils a sense of empowerment and belief in one’s self. “It is amazing how the day unfolds from one conversation to the next,” she said.
An alumnus of St Mary’s College, Sr. Natalie described her transition from Timor-Leste to St Mary’s as a true blessing, a place of home coming. She describes St Mary’s as a home away from home, a place where young lives are held as sacred and lovingly nurtured, as important life transitions and future possibilities are discerned and lived out.
“The students know that they belong to this family. The charism and beauty of this place continues to be so infectious and is no different to what I experienced when I was a student back in 1992, 93 and 94. St Mary’s has a soul and is a place of warmth and love. “
Natalie defines her experience at St Mary’s as fulfilling, delighting in the students and serving to inspire a sense of confidence and belief in themselves and their dreams. In 2020 Natalie will be part of the Loreto Mary’s Mount Community and will still maintain connections of friendship and support with the students, staff and community at St Mary’s College.
Loreto’s connection to St Mary’s, aiding young people in finding their way, listening, mentoring, and being “present” is at the heart of our mission.
“Mission is at the core of who we are, and love is the driving force that urges us on.”
IBVM Constitutions Vol.ii 2.1
Author: Anna Turkington
Communications Coordinator, Loreto Ministries Australia and South East Asia