September 14 marked the end of an era for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan when they farewelled their historic Rosebank property in Five Dock, Sydney, after 147 years of continuous presence.
During a special “ritual of leave-taking”, which began in the Rosebank chapel and moved to the Sisters’ cemetery, Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon formally handed over custodianship of the entire Rosebank property to Good Samaritan Education, the ecclesial community established to oversee the ethos, mission and stewardship of the ten incorporated Good Samaritan Colleges, which includes Rosebank College.
“Today we mark an important moment in our history and a new phase for Rosebank College,” Clare told those gathered.
“As the Trustees of this college and property, we, the Sisters have stewarded the site with faithful love and dedication over the decades. Now we have responded to the demands of our time and, continuing in that spirit, we now hand over the stewardship to Good Samaritan Education and the Rosebank College community,” she said.
“We also wish to farewell this the home and dwelling place of the Sisters, the fountain of outreach in ministry for many sisters for 147 years… We gather particularly to hand over the custodianship of the chapel and the cemetery for safe and sacred keeping within the college community.”
Clare acknowledged that it was a day of mixed emotions for those closely connected with Rosebank.
“We grieve, we give thanks and we move forward in gratitude for what has been and in hope for what will be,” she said.
Those gathered for the ritual included sisters who had lived or ministered at Rosebank, staff of the congregation’s administrative offices, and staff, students and board members of Rosebank College.
For Sister Monica Sparks (formerly Sister Dominic), who lived and ministered at Rosebank from 1958 to 1969, both as a teacher, and later as principal, the ritual was “a beautiful experience”, “solemn” and “very moving”.
“Delighted” to see the College had “developed so well”, Monica was also “impressed” with the Rosebank students, particularly with how conversant they were “with the whole life of the college”.
“Coming out of the chapel we received a real surprise as we were going down to the graves of our sisters and the handover there. There were about 120 young students lined up silently – beautifully presented, just in homage of the long story,” she said.
Monica described her time at Rosebank as among her best years as a teacher. But she admits life “was pretty tough in the beginning”. When she first arrived in 1958, the school was still re-establishing itself as a secondary school, having operated as a juniorate (a school for girls interested in becoming nuns). The new convent was also being constructed, so the staff lived in makeshift accommodation on the verandah of the boarders’ dormitory.
Another significant challenge was implementing the 1962 Wyndham Scheme, which completely reorganised secondary education in NSW.
For the Good Samaritan Sisters, the “Rosebank Estate” has been a significant home and place of ministry. Purchased by Archbishop Polding in 1868, just 11 years after the order was established, the property has, over time, served many needs and undergone much development.
In 1868, the four-and-a-half-acre property included a house with eight rooms, an orchard of fruit and olive trees, a vegetable garden and a small vineyard.
“The main reason for the purchase was to provide a new home for the novices,” said Clare.
“At Pitt Street there were concerns about the health of the young sisters, three of whom had died from TB. The noise of the growing Sydney, the nearby cattle market, steam tram sheds, all contributed to a polluted environment.”
When the novices returned to Pitt Street in 1877, Rosebank became a boarding college for young ladies. Since then it has operated as a primary school, secondary school, juniorate, boarding school, day school, and from 2009, a coeducational years 7-12 college.
For the past nine years the Sisters’ administrative offices have also been situated in the former convent building. Their relocation to their ‘mother house’ in Glebe will allow the College to continue its building program.
Rosebank College Principal Tom Galea described the transfer of property as “a gesture of enormous significance, courage, generosity and value”.
“To Sister Clare, her council and all the sisters, we express our deep gratitude, our commitment to hold sacred the mission that has been transferred to us, the sacred stories and traditions you have nurtured and grown and now entrust to our care, the grounds and plant, and in particular the chapel and cemetery so dear to your hearts, as well as the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition you have formed us in,” he said.
Addressing the College community, Clare said: “The Sisters of the Good Samaritan have the utmost trust in you as a College community to continue to care for this sacred site, the Chapel and cemetery.
“May the women who rest here in your midst intercede for you as you continue to hand on the Benedictine values and spirituality to the staff, students and parents of this College.
“May you continue to be inspired and challenged by the parable of the Good Samaritan and assist the students in discovering this charism within themselves,” she said.
The administrative offices of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, including the Good Samaritan Foundation, have now relocated to the Sisters’ Congregational Centre in Glebe.