This month, 'The Way We Were' asks the question 'Whom do you know?' This photograph captures the diamond jubilee of Bishop Edmund Gleeson, DD, CSsR in 1953. Cardinal Gilroy is in the lead to the left. Can you identify any of the men or boys depicted? The editor notes the absence of women – no doubt they had duties elsewhere! Please E email@example.com, P 4979 1288 or write to PO Box 756 Newcastle 2300.
Blessed is the peacemaker
Contributed by Michael O’Connor
Saint Therese's, New Lambton, at the start of the sixties. I was in 'Sixth Class'.
I now have to accept that I was a bully. Not, however, out of malice. My ego insisted that I be the toughest kid in the playground. And I was. Everyone knew it because I had fought them all and won.
Then two brothers enrolled mid-term. The older one was a 'Fonzie' type character with cool clothes, slicked hair, and attitude. He challenged, and it was on.
We fought hard and there was blood. I can't remember if it was his or mine, but it made a mess of our clothes. For a skinny kid I was a tough fighter and didn't know the concept of throwing in the towel. The contest ended when I managed to throw him over a fence into a vacant block behind the school buildings.
I couldn't have picked a worse day for such a fight. It happened to be the day Mum was on tuckshop. Sister Clare – my beloved best-ever teacher, now Sister Dorothy Kelly whom I love to visit in retirement at Waratah – hauled me to the tuckshop.
In front of my mother, in a very serious manner, Sister Clare gave me the most complete dressing down I had yet experienced. She then sent me back to the class-room.
Many years later Mum revealed to me that, after I was sent off, Sister Clare confided to her, "I'm glad Michael did that. That boy needed to be taught a lesson." Such wisdom.
My lesson came later. When I went to Marist Brothers, Hamilton, I went with the same attitude. I was going to be king. My first challenger took boxing lessons. He decked me with one punch. A king hit.
I arose from the ground a pacifist.
After the ball was over...
Contributed by Darrell Bailey
This now somewhat dim photograph appeared in The Newcastle Herald on 7 May, 1952, the day before the Annual YCWNCGM (Young Christian Workers-National Catholic Girls Movement) Debutantes Ball was held at the Newcastle City Hall.
This story concerns one of the debutantes, Aileen McDonald, and a member of the Ball Committee, Darrell Bailey. At that time, these two had no idea of what the future would hold for them.
At the final rehearsal before the ball, the 'debs' practised their presentation to the Bishop by the Matron of Honour. The 'stand-in' for the Bishop was the committee member, and that is probably when their association really began! Yet five years elapsed before the 'deb' and the committeeman met at the Saturday night dance at Newcastle's old Empire Palais in August, 1957. From this chance meeting, their courtship began.
They married in mid-September, 1959 at the Holy Family Church, Merewether Beach, and in time, along came a son and two daughters. In due course the children left home to make their ways in the world. Over the years, the Baileys experienced the usual highs and lows of any family, managing to cope with whatever came along. Then in December, 2001, the 'deb' – now an elderly woman, wife and mother – was diagnosed with dementia. In January, 2010, she suffered a massive loss of brain cells as the result of a stroke, and two months later, she entered St Joseph's Home at Sandgate where she remained in palliative care until she died on 26 September, 2015.
At the time of death, the 'deb' had fallen short of her 81st birthday by three weeks, yet the couple had reached the 56th anniversary of their marriage two weeks before.
First Days at School
Have you ever had the experience of beginning kindergarten ... twice? Back in 1969 I was employed by the Sisters of Mercy to join the teaching staff of St Aloysius' Girls' High School. I was young and energetic in the practice of my profession, determined to make some difference to the students in my classroom, but almost totally ignorant concerning the nuns alongside whom I was to teach. Having been raised in a Presbyterian family, it took a little time to come to a fuller realisation that the Mercy Congregation encompassed a diverse range of ladies, many of whom were warm, wise and dedicated, though enmeshed in the manifold upheavals of those changing times. I was to come to marvel at the qualities of faith, hope and love which marked their humble days of service though, I freely admit, these qualities were not immediately apparent to me.
Regarding the Parry Street site, my concerns came more immediately and clearly into focus. How was one to cope with the claustrophobic effects of a school for 400 students that (including class-rooms, offices and a tarred playground) covered a mere .68 of an acre? How was the first full-time, male lay teacher at the institution to conjure up a more rapidly accessible toilet facility than that offered by the Hamilton Hotel? And a month or two after commencing work and having been using, with great enthusiasm, the personal spirit duplicator purchased to run off lesson aids at home, how was one to convince some of the Sisters of advanced olfactory sensitivities (the duplicator ran on methylated spirits) that one was not a drunkard?
Such were some of my 'beginner's' apprehensions. My first days at a school where I was to teach for 16 years continued to throw up many more such questions demanding a multitude of adaptations on my part. There was one situation that, above others, remains indelibly in mind and illustrates the nature of my naivety at the time:
School assembly. I'm standing at the rear of the Hall. Sr Margaret is late and enters via the back doorway. Two students are seated on a smallish bench. They observe Sister's approach and shuffle sideways closer together, leaving a space for her to occupy. Their display of consummate good manners (unfortunately) does not stop at this juncture. As Sr Margaret descends towards the recently vacated end of the bench, the two simultaneously arise out of respect. Gravity, however, is no respecter of persons, making no distinction between saints, sisters or sinners. Down to the floor goes Sr Margaret (fortunately avoiding injury), landing upon her back and remaining there in the undignified attitude of some very pious black and white tortoise rocking ever-so-slightly on its carapace.
What does one do? Does one lay hands on the person of a sister? All the voices of my upbringing are screaming at me to assist, to be the gentleman, to offer help, to lift...
All student heads are momentarily turned towards the source of the kerfuffle and, embarrassingly, towards my hovering, ineffectual presence. Now Sr Aquinas, who as deputy principal is conducting the assembly, uses her eyes which miraculously, re-assert their hold over the students, drawing them inexorably around till their attention is again riveted upon the stage. Such control!
Time stretches impossibly into a sweltering eternity of my red-faced inertia; an inertia born of my ignorance that in turn, breeds paralysis. Yet, beneath my fixed gaze, Sr Margaret rocks on...ever-so-slightly. Beads of perspiration pop from my forehead. And that nauseating rocking motion continues...
Then...the nightmarish impasse is broken! Diurnal reality returns! A smile flickers across Sr Aquinas' face...and that is the signal. Student heads swivel around towards the circus at the rear and the hall reverberates with titterings, giggles, gut-laughs and guffaws.
At this explosion of pent-up sound, all my indecision falls away, like chains suddenly loosed from a prisoner. I obey what remains of my sense of self-preservation by fleeing from the scene to live another day and, with some urgency, to seek much-needed advice on the subject of how one (if ever again required) should handle 'holy personages'.
How poor Sr Margaret was returned to the world of ambulating beings, remains, to my everlasting shame, an unknown. I could never bring myself to ask anyone. I had much to learn...in my second kindergarten.
Contributed by John Murray
Influence of Sisters of Mercy endures
I began my education with the Sisters of Mercy at St Patrick's, Millers Forest, in first class, there being no pre-school or kindergarten. Two of the Sisters crossed the river by punt in a horse and sulky, and later in an early model car. They taught in two rooms, separated by a partition. We had a large wooden altar in an elevated platform and the priest came over to say Mass on first Fridays. Parents came too and supplied a beaut lunch with special treats like packets of 'Iced VoVos' supplied by the late 'Blue' Pat Hughes' Mum, Nita.
Kids arrived from farms on foot or on horseback, and there was a yard at the bottom of the school ground for the ponies. Sometimes a farmer would come to the school before the end of the day to collect a son for milking or other farm duties. These were happy and carefree times with the girls and boys enjoying simple fun together.
I progressed to 6th class and under the guidance of Sr M Veronica, I was able to win both a Bishop's and a state bursary, enabling me to go to St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill. Another scholarship to the University of Sydney led to a Science degree. I will be forever in debt to the grounding I gained from the gentle and kind Sisters.
My wife of over 60 years, Robin, studied with the Sisters in the 'Big Room' and the 'Little Room', in what is now the parish hall, opposite St Brigid's Church. The association with the Sisters continued with our four children, with two of our girls helping the Sister-sacristan regularly. When the girls moved on, Robin took on sacristan duties with the Sisters until they left the parish. Only when her mobility was restricted did she retire from these duties.
Each of our children followed professional careers after the grounding they received from the Sisters of Mercy.
Contributed by Raymond Terrace parishioner, Des O'Hearn
Is there anyone around who was a student at St Joseph's College, Lochinvar in 1941?
Can you remember the palm trees that lined the driveway between the boarders' quarters and the school, where this photo of the College Orchestra was taken? Are those palm trees still there, I wonder? And can you remember the string orchestra? Being 1941 and wartime, the orchestra was frequently called upon to play for the soldiers at the Singleton Army camp, as well as other concerts that took place in the area. Sr Mary Annette was the conductor and the formidable Mother Angela gave us the once over, twice, before we dared venture out through the College gates. Hats, gloves, blazers, long-sleeved blouses and hot, hot stockings. We survived, but most important of all, can anyone recognise the faces of the musicians? I can recall some names – who can help me out? If you can help Shirley, please contact the editor. Shirley's on the far right, back row!
Contributed by Shirley McHugh
The Way We Were
The bell in the tower of St John the Baptist is in fact the second bell. The first was a left-over of the old Plaistowe Street school and was pretty 'tinny'. The current bell was donated by Fr Jerome Keating in 1865, forged in England, and fell from halfway up the tower when the first attempt to hang it failed. It cracked and has since sounded just a little less than was majestically designed!
Compiled by local historian and Maitland parishioner, Michael Belcher