Brigidine Heritage and History

Our Patroness St Brigid
St Brigid of Kildare is the patroness of Ireland. Known for her unwavering selflessness and charitable nature, she is a model of great strength, kindness and gentleness.

Her mother, Brocca, was sold into slavery by Brigid’s father to a druid dairy farmer. In 451, when Brigid was born she was solely sustained by a white cow with red ears as her body refused food from the impure druid whom tended to her. Brigid was renowned for her lifelong generous and selfless spirit and purity. She was compelled to feed and tend to the poor, once giving away her mother’s entire store of butter, which was later replenished because of her prayers. At the age of ten, she returned to her father’s home as a servant, bringing with her, her sense of charity, donating her father’s possessions to any whom asked. Her father became frustrated and took her to the King to sell her. As he spoke to the King, Brigid gave a beggar his sword and the Christian king granted her freedom exclaiming “her merit before God is greater than ours.” She returned and overtook the dairy farm, and she would often give away milk, though the farm greatly prospered, leading to the freedom of her mother from slavery.

Brigid vowed to remain chaste and entered the Church. She founded Ireland’s first convent in Kildare called the Church of the Oak. The convent educated women and trained them to recognize and respond to the needs of the poor. She is often regarded as saying “What is mine is theirs.” This helped the nuns remember that God calls us to share their blessings with others. The convent was known as a place of devotion and of learning, for Brigid saw the connection between the spiritual and the material, and between the intellect and the faith. Brigid, who is also the patron saint of scholars, later founded a school of art including metalwork and illumination.

Brigid died on February 1st 525 of natural causes. Saint Brigid’s likeness is often depicted holding a reed cross, a crozier, or a lamp. In 2003

St Brigid’s Cross
Usually made from rushes or, less often, straw; it comprises a woven square in the centre and four radials tied at the ends. Many rituals are associated with the making of the crosses. Brigid’s crosses are traditionally made on February 1st, the day of her liturgical celebration. The origins of this cross are explained in the story when Brigid goes to see either her father or a pagan lord on his deathbed. One version goes as follows:

A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Bridget to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has existed in Ireland.

Our Founding Father and Sisters
Bishop Daniel Delany was an Irish priest during the late 18th and early 19th Century. During this time the social and political climate was harsh and full of crime and corruption. He was appointed as priest curate in Tullow and there attempted to reform society values with particular attention to the youth. He gathered children and taught them to sing in a choir, led them in prayer and began a Sunday school for their education. As numbers grew Delany enlisted the help of young women and men whom he trained with great care. The school operating from chapels, began to see students of all ages join in and slowly Tullow was transforming from crime to order and faith. Daniel Delany’s vision and success of the education of Tullow inspired him to found a religious order, the Congregation of St Brigid, whom he named after Ireland’s patroness in 1807.  He fortunately gained a plot of land on which he erected the chapel of Mountrath and after the Irish Rebellion established another chapel at Tullow.

On February 1st 1807, six faithful women were personally called by Daniel Delany to become the first of the Sisters of St. Brigid, linking with the spiritual heritage of the ancient order of St Brigid of Kildare. In an unusual practice for the time, these sisters were part of the wider society rather than a private community. In this way Delany felt the people would benefit from the mingling of the religious and the public, hearing the same Mass and viewing the Sister’s as role models for a moral life. Now with greater teaching opportunity, together Delany and the sisters educated many more people, introducing more hours for married women and others whom wished to attend the schools.

Our School
In 1883, by the invitation of Bishop Murray of Maitland, six Brigidine Sisters, led by Mother John Synan, undertook the difficult journey from Ireland to establish the first Australian Brigidine school in Coonamble. From Coonamble in North-west NSW, the Sisters continued their work of education throughout the Australian colonies. In 1901, the Randwick Brigidine convent and school were established.

As Randwick flourished, there became a need for more space for their novitiates to train and live. In 1949 and 1951, ten acres of land surrounded by orchards in St Ives was purchased. The new Convent and ‘Synan’ school building began construction in August of 1953. One day after completion of construction, Principal Mother Romuald Walz and Mother Adrian Small started teaching on the 9th February 1954 with nine girls, five in first year and four in second year. This building was to be a temporary convent for the nuns which also included the Principal for Corpus Christi, Mother Josephine Coady, as well as Mother Duchesne Donlan. Upstairs there was three classrooms and the nuns’ living quarters, while downstairs housed a chemistry lab, administration, domestic science room, which doubled as the nuns’ kitchen, cloakroom, washroom and a laundry.

A new convent and novitiate were completed in 1958 and with welcome relief, ‘Synan’ could now be a dedicated college building with then thirty-five students enrolled. On 27th January 1959, twelve novices from Randwick moved into the novitiate to train and learn to teach. The first two school houses were introduced this year, Fortiter and Suaviter, replaced in 1962 with three of the current houses, Prague, Fatima and Kildare. Finally, the fourth school house, Lourdes, was added in 1968.

As the school became inundated with more and more students, additional space and classrooms were required leading to the alteration and construction of many buildings over the last 60 years including;

1964: first school Hall and a classroom

1968: Murray and McMahon Wings, included five classrooms, library, science block and staffrooms.

1971: the extension of the Synan Wing to include art and craft rooms, classrooms and administration.

1979: construction of the current library

1985: the renovation of the Novitiate, renamed the McCammon Wing.

1989: opening of the Sister Anita Murray Prayer Room

1991: construction of the gymnasium

1993: opening of the Sister Adrian Wing and Connolly Wing

1997: the Convent was renovated for educational and administrative facilities

2000: construction of the Henry Lindo Courts and St Brigid’s Chapel and Religious Education Centre, and the opening of the Chisholm Centre with the integration of girls with special needs

2005: completion of Bowie Hall and renovation of the Romuald Hall to create the Romuald Visual Arts Centre

2014: completion of the Sr Anita Murrary Performing Arts and Social Sciences Centre

The Brigidine Sisters occupied the Convent until 1994 when they moved to Randwick and the building was made available to the College to develop staff and student facilities. The Sisters continue their guardianship of the College by being actively involved on the College Board of Directors. Brigidine Sisters are also members of the Trustees of Kildare Ministries, the Catholic church authority for the schools and community works previously conducted by the Brigidine Sisters in Australia and the Presentation Sisters in Victoria.  In 2014, the Kildare Ministries was launched and is now the canonical and civil authority incorporating the NSW and Victorian Provinces of the Brigidine Congregation and the Presentation Congregation of Victoria.

Today, Brigidine College St Ives seeks to further Brigidine tradition and ethos by promoting a love of learning and hope, of social justice and service to others, of fidelity to the Catholic and Brigidine heritage, and of hospitality to all, especially the most vulnerable.

The Brigidine College St Ives crest, with the lamp of God’s love and the light of learning at its centre, is framed by the name of the College and the Brigidine motto of Fortiter et Suaviter, (Strength and Gentleness).