History

The Early Years

Bishop Gould, appointed as Bishop of Melbourne in 1848, came to the city with a drive and ambition to set the Catholic Church and Community on its feet in what he felt was a strong and generally antagonistic Protestant community. The community was probably not as antagonistic as he first believed, but the Catholics were generally of Irish stock and carried with them concern for many of the problems of the old country.

Three events, apparently un-created events created the school which became known as St Patrick’s College. First, Bishop Gould wanted to create seminary and a school for his community and given the shortage of resources and numbers in Melbourne of the late 1840s, one institution needed the support of the other if they were to survive. Second, the increased number of Catholics to the east of Melbourne led to the foundation of small Catholic private schools and a government funded parish was established in the area. This meant that a school would be needed in the area, to support the small school Gould had started at St Francis Church in Londsdale Street Melbourne.

The third event was the foundation of Melbourne University in the early 1850s and the corresponding requirement for matriculating students. The government saw the need and made land grants to each of the four major religious denominations in the city. This created a dilemma and an opportunity for Gould. He needed a good school or his better off parishioners would send their sons to the schools of the other denominations and they would be lost to the church. With the government grant and aid, the foundation stone was laid on December 1854. The actual date of the laying of the foundation stone was delayed as the bishop, some of the priests and some guests were away in Ballarat being involved in an incident known to history as the Eureka Stockade.

Bishop Gould hired some of the most competent educators of day, including Whyte, Bleasdale (who is well known for his connections with Australian wines) and Dr John Barry. They dreamed of a great school and indeed they fulfilled their dreams with substantial dining rooms for the boarders, a stable for horses and a house in Brighton which served as an infirmary. The curriculum was the equal of any in the colony, the results were outstanding and the parents delighted. It was a classical style education and the languages offered included, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Unfortunately the bankers were not quite so impressed and the school was bankrupt twice in ten years.

The bankruptcy of 1862 resulted in legal action against Dr Barry which few of those involved little credit and dragged on for months. Peter O’Farrell, the bishop’s solicitor did not help matters by the advice he tendered and eventually had to flee the colony himself. Twenty years later, and slightly insane he returned to Melbourne where he shot and wounded Archbishop Gould.

Bishop Gould ultimately solved his financial problems by inviting the Jesuit Order from Ireland to take over the school, and importantly, from the Bishop’s point of view, the debt. The first two fathers, Lentaigne and Kelly reopened the school in September 1865 with thirty-five students. It boomed and grew so much that it proved impossible to house the boarders in the small building, so a new property was purchased in Kew and a boarding school was opened in 1878. Fairly quickly it was decided to make this new school a completely separate institution which grew into the modern Xavier College of today.

The Jesuit Era

Immediately the Jesuits made an impact in the city, especially after the orator, Fr William Kelly engaged successfully in many public debates on a range of social, political and religious issues. At the end of 1870, Fr Kelly engaged debate with Dr Bromley, the talented headmaster of Melbourne Grammar School on the subject of hell. Dr Bromley argued that it did not exist, but Fr Kelly managed to persuade the audience that it did and was available to the members of the Church of England. The school became a base for a range of organisations, sodalities and men’s groups which attracted most of the leading Catholic laymen of 19th century Victoria and contributed to its influence.

By 1900 the small size of the school meant that it was unable to field regular sporting teams against the other public schools so the membership of the sporting competition was given up. What remained was an average sized inner suburban school which attracted convinced Catholic families from every part of the city. The presence of a large body of Jesuit religious and this Catholic clientele gave the school a particular flavour which produced good results and by and large concerned and aware Catholic citizens.

In the years followed World War II and the huge expansion of education in Victoria, St Patrick’s remained a small school which in time became part of its charm and its attraction. Enrolments remained strong and results outstanding, but changes in the requirements of the Church administration and rising prices of real estate led to its closure in 1968.

Its size, location, clientele, teaching staff and teaching philosophy made it a very special place, a type of school that can never be repeated.