What the Brothers achieved ‘Down Under’

What the Brothers achieved ‘Down Under’ Old and new Wakefield Street.
A School on a Mission: 140 years of the CBC on Wakefield Street

by Lingard Goulding (Christian Brothers’ College, Adelaide SA, Aus$80.00/€40.00; copies through Veritas and Books Upstairs)



The author of this book, Lingard Goulding, was headmaster of Headfort School in Kells, a preparatory school founded around 1950 to prepare boys for English public schools, one of the most renowned of which, Winchester, he had attended himself.

He broadened Headfort’s appeal, admitting girls and sending more of its pupils to Irish schools. For the last decade, he has spent winters in Australia coaching young cricketers. He ended up as coach at the Christian Brothers College in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, South Australia.

This beautifully produced and handsomely illustrated history of the college, founded in 1878, arose out of that association. To place it in its historic context the author tells the story of the foundation in Ireland of the Brothers by Edmund Rice in the early 1800s. Its mission was to provide education for poor Catholics.

In the 1860s, the Brothers established themselves in Australia where the Catholic Church was largely Irish and tied closely to Ireland in its organisation. They were led by Brother Ambrose Tracey from Thurles, whom the author contends should be revered as much as Edmund Rice. He travelled vast distances through the outback begging money from Irish emigrants who could afford to help.

Wakefield Street was the last of ten schools founded under his leadership—its building was modelled on that of the Christian Brothers School in Drogheda.

Br Ambrose’s life was one of heroic sacrifice and dedication to the advancement of the less fortunate, as was that of his confreres.

They had their faults, some very serious, but overall they did much more for the less fortunate than their present day critics have ever done.

A charming feature of the book is that the author allows himself to be diverted at several points from the main story down side alleys such as the life story of Mary McKillop, the first Australian saint. The Josephite order she founded did for Catholic girls in Australia what the Brothers did for boys, both following the earlier example of Nano Nagle, the foundress of the Presentation sisters.

The Church in Australia retained its close Irish connection. In Adelaide, as elsewhere, the CBC served the Irish immigrant community and contributed to retaining its separate identity.  Some of the Brothers brought the conflicts of Irish life with them; there were episodes such as refusing to sing the God Save the Queen when the State Governor visited.

Gradually, in the 20th Century, native born Australians, albeit of Irish origin, came to make up most of the brothers and pupils. Since the Second World War many pupils have been drawn from the families of new immigrants from Eastern Europe and China.

The Brothers established themselves in Australia where the Catholic Church was largely Irish and tied closely to Ireland”

The Brothers became a diminishing presence, disappearing totally in 2007, but the ethos is maintained under lay leadership. Some 60% of its 1000 pupils are Catholic; its pupils hail from forty-three different countries and include a small number of aboriginal boys.

Thankfully, Wakefield Street CBC now enjoys the State aid that was denied to church schools until the 1970s, has created a magnificent new extension, and is looking forward to the decades to come.