Australia
Education

Mary Gonzaga Barry (1834-1915), mother superior, educationalist.

She was born in Wexford, and educated at the Loreto Abbeys in Gorey and Rathfarnham. Mary received the name 'Gonzaga' on entering Loreto at the age of nineteen. She became Superior in Gorey and later at Enniscorthy. In response to an appeal by Bishop James Moore of Ballarat for Loreto Sisters for the Australian mission, Mother Gonzaga went on foundation to Ballarat in 1875, accompanied by six nuns. The Loreto Sisters had already won wide renown as a teaching order; and it attracted to its ranks educated women who provided a high-quality education for girls in their various abbeys. There was need for such a school in Ballarat, as Mother Gonzaga quickly perceived. But she was concerned also for the welfare of the Catholic community as a whole. Under her guidance, confraternities were established for adult Catholics, and Sisters from the Mary's Mount Abbey were provided to supervise teaching in the parochial schools, which relied heavily on pupil-teachers at that time.

Recognizing the importance of teacher training, Mother Gonzaga established the Catholic Training College for teachers at Dawson Street, Ballarat, in 1884. In 1896 the college received new impetus under the direction of Miss Barbara Bell, a distinguished graduate of the Secondary Teachers' Training College, Cambridge, whom Mother Gonzaga brought from England especially for that work.
The opening of the Albert Park College on 1 May 1906 marked a new venture in Catholic education in Victoria: there for the first time was a central training college open to lay and religious students, providing courses both for intending teachers and for students pursuing university work.

In kindergarten work in Australia, Mother Gonzaga was definitely a pioneer. Having observed such work in Europe, she introduced it first at Mary's Mount, Ballarat before 1900. In 1912 she established a free kindergarten in South Melbourne, voluntary help being provided by members of the Loreto Past Pupils' Association, an organization which she had sponsored in 1898.
Much of Mother Gonzaga's life's work is reflected in her letters, both public and private. They reveal on the one hand a nun remarkable for her simple, childlike piety, and on the other an educationalist indefatigable in the pursuit of an intelligent and ambitious programme of expansion and academic development within the Loreto order. She travelled widely in Australia and abroad, always keeping her Sisters informed about new methods in teaching and administration.

Source: Dictionary of Australian Biography.

Gonzaga Barry

Picture: Loreto Pupils with Telescope and Orrery on Roof of Novitiate 1893 or 1895