One Hundred Years of Catholic Education in Busselton
In 1902, Bishop Matthew Gibney visited his scattered flock in the Vasse area, conferring Confirmation and offering support for the small but energetic community of faith. It can only be assumed that prior to this time, education in the faith was carried out in the home, with support from family and friends and the all- too -infrequent pastoral visits from priests from other parts of the state. We can look back with pride and wonder at the courage and faith of our ancestors and praise God for the wonderful heritage with which we have been blessed.
During his visit, Bishop was impressed with the quality of the work being done each Sunday to teach young children about God and the Church. However, he announced his intention to send a group of sisters to Busselton to help with this vitally important work. In 1903, this became a reality, when a small group of sisters from the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions (Our Lady of the Missions) with Mother Mary Martina as their head, arrived and set up a home and opened the first Catholic school. One of this first group of sisters, Sister Mary of Calvary, died soon after she arrived and was buried in the old Busselton Cemetery.
By 1905, the school population had grown steadily and plans were drawn up for a new convent. This building program never eventuated as Villa Carlotta, in Adelaide Street, Busselton was bought instead and was set up as a boarding school for senior pupils.
This work continued through the First World War and in 1922 the work of the school was taken over by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. The school is still blessed by their presence, though the number of sisters has diminished considerably.
The 1920’s saw the introduction of the Group Settlement Scheme in the South West of Western Australia. In spite of great hardship and largely unrealised dreams, the settlers battled to survive, only to succumb to failure and disillusionment! The Sisters continued their work of educating the young and visiting families to offer whatever support and comfort they could. In 1929, the first Bushies School was held in Busselton. This allowed children from outlying and remote areas to live-in and attend school, learn about God, be prepared for the Sacraments and socialise with other students. The bonds of friendship formed at the Bushies School were solid and lasted for many, many years.
The Second World War affected Busselton, as indeed it did everywhere across Australia and the post- War years were characterised by shortages of goods and money. In 1954, Bishop Goody blessed and opened a new school adjoining the St. Joseph’s Church site in Kent.
St Joseph's School - Kent Street Busselton
The 1950’s saw huge growth in the South West and, following the establishment of the Bunbury Diocese (1954), the school was extended to cater for more students. In 1957, one of the old classrooms at St. Joseph’s was transported to Dunsborough to meet the growing needs of Catholics and provide a Mass centre. This decade saw great difficulties in Catholic Education throughout the State due to increasing numbers, changing expectations and the lack of viable resources. Parents paying fees were, in many cases, subjected to great hardship and their efforts to improve the lot of Catholic educators must be recognised and applauded.
Sister Donat (Catherine) and Sister Marietta (Mary Kirrane) were
to return as principals of St Joseph's 1980 - 1998.
The centenary of the foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart was celebrated in style in 1966 and the fight for State Aid went on.
The 1970’s saw many changes in education and the needs of the School changed accordingly. State Aid was introduced, adding to the accountability of the school programs and staff. Multicultural education, science and library resources benefited greatly and St. Joseph’s Parents and Friends played an important part in attracting grants to pursue these areas. The Catholic Education Commission guided systemic schools, giving them a sense of community and co-responsibility. The School Board adopted a new policy in 1978 and, in doing so, merged parent, parish and school ideals with official representation from each group. 1979 saw the school take part enthusiastically, in the celebration of 150 years of Western Australia. The first lay teacher was employed to assist in the school during this period.
During the 1980’s, serious issues regarding secondary schooling had to be addressed. While every effort was made to provide students with a totally Catholic education, some students found it necessary to have their needs met at the local High School while others travelled to attend Bunbury Catholic College.
Music and sport continued to play an important role in school activities. The school opened by Bishop Goody in1954 operated until 1987, when Bishop Peter Quinn blessed and opened the present school in Kelly Drive with Sister Mary Kirrane as the principal.
St Joseph’s School – Kelly Drive
The 1990’s saw the introduction of the Bishops’ Mandate Letter and Saint Joseph’s has striven to reflect the ideals of Catholic Education under their leadership. The adoption of Curriculum Framework and national Benchmark testing has meant that teachers must look beyond Saint Joseph’s, Busselton and meet the needs of students in a rapidly changing and technological world. Religious Education requires that teachers be accredited to carry out this sacred work and “to teach as Jesus did”. Sister Kathleen Hitchcock has brought the school into the new century with confidence and acknowledgement of the rich and blessed heritage from the parents, sisters and pupils of the past.
And so, by 2003 much has been accomplished in 100 years. We are confident that through our motto “ Education Through Christ” and with the invaluable support of parents and parish, the work of the Holy Spirit will continue to flourish in the school and the community. In 2006 Sr Kathleen Hitchcock resigned and was the last Sister of St Joseph’s to lead the school. The incoming principal, Allen McMahon was the first lay principal of the school.
We have so much to celebrate and thank God for daily. We praise God that we have been brought this far on our journey and for the sisters and teachers of the past who laid the foundation for the realisation of Jesus promise to “bring us life and bring it to the full”.