The centenary of the Christian Brothers in Townsville
Three Christian Brothers arrived in Townsville in 1911 to open a school in a disused mining museum on Stanton Hill, high above the city. It was a secondary day-school catering for 150 boys, and it became known as Our Lady’s Mount. In the intervening century there have been many changes – so much so that were they to return today they would find scarcely anything familiar, except perhaps the imposing bulk of Castle Hill which survived an American army plan during the Second World War to relocate it in Cleveland Bay as a causeway to Magnetic Island.
I was not stationed at Our Lady’s Mount, nor did I have the pleasure of living in the residence which, lovingly restored by its new owners, still has a stunning view of Cleveland Bay and must enjoy afternoon breezes which for the early Brothers would have been a welcome relief from the soggy, sub-tropical heat, particularly after a full day in school. Though the residence has been continuously inhabited, I had been saddened on a past visit by the poor state of the old College across the road. For years the derelict site looked as if history had moved on and passed it by. So I was heartened to see, on returning for the centenary, that a commemorative plaque has been placed in a prominent position among the green-roofed semi-circle of town houses of the developed Stanton Crest, announcing that this had been the site of the first Brothers’ school in Townsville.
Because of Townsville’s growth in the 1950’s, the Bishop invited the Christian Brothers to open another school to be named St John Fisher’s. It was to cater for boys in Years 5 to 8 and was opened in 1952. It would later evolve into Marian Catholic School on the same site. We, the centenary visitors, also wandered about here recalling especially those Brothers who had taught there, and noting how the site had developed over the years since then.
The visiting Brothers’ Townsville tour also included the Flexible Learning Centre at St Mary’s in the inner suburb of West End. This provides, as the name implies, a less structured pathway of alternative education for those students who may find traditional schooling less suited to their particular needs and aptitudes. Brother Phil Joyner who works there conducted us around this site. The tour was rounded off by a visit to Townsville Cemetery where three Brothers are buried.
In 1961 the Old Boys Association of Our Lady’s Mount had, with considerable vision and foresight, acquired land at Aitkenvale for a proposed new school to replace the one that closed on Stanton Hill. The land on which the new College was to be built was on the very outskirts of the city, virgin bush and precious little of that. Today Ignatius Park College stands at the demographic centre of Townsville. The Holy Spirit parish and church have grown up around it.
The early September ceremonies to commemorate the Centenary were modest. No grand occasions or formal dinners. Celebrations began with a Civic Reception in which the Brothers were thanked for their contribution to the life of the city. I felt very grateful for that, having taught at Ignatius Park College for eight years from 1984 to 1991.The Brothers and their colleagues over the years have worked quietly to make a significant contribution to the education of the young men of Townsville and have done so without fanfare and away from the glare of public acclaim.
Following the Saturday tour, outlined above, Sunday morning brought an ‘At Home’ at the Brothers’ residence in Ignatius Park, where many former colleagues and friends renewed acquaintances with the visiting Brothers. That evening the Hospitality students of the College treated the visiting Brothers to a dinner, hosted by Ignatius Park Principal, Mr Michael Conn, successor (and twin brother) of the College’s last Brother Principal, Paul Conn. Both are past students of the Brothers, as are many of the staff including Brother Jon Hansen, the College’s Dean of Identity – a role which ensures that a school in the Edmund Rice tradition stays loyal to the Founder’s charism. The celebrations culminated with the College Anniversary Mass on Monday morning, which also served to honour the centenary of the arrival of the Brothers in Townsville. The chief celebrant was Diocesan Bishop Michael Putney, himself a former student of Our Lady’s Mount. Another former student of the Brothers, retired Brother Neil Langan headed the committee that organised the four days.
Ignatius Park College has grown from its humble beginnings in 1969 into an outstanding enterprise. It has a reputation for sporting excellence which, in some ways, overshadows its academic achievements, but it is the calibre of its past students that is the most reliable criterion of success. I was greatly struck by the physical improvements around the campus since my last visit in 2000. More particularly I was very impressed by the landscaping with shade-cloths and seating in the quad which, in my time, had resembled a sun-soaked tarmac of unrelenting concrete. I hasten to add this did not stop the lads from playing hand tennis during recess and lunch break – with disastrous consequences for their powers of concentration in the afternoon lessons.
In the main I was struck by the all-pervading green, where once only gravel had been in evidence. I feel sure there must be a close correlation between the pleasantness of one’s learning environment and the level of one’s academic achievement. Air-conditioned class-rooms help. To this general sense of a much improved campus do I attribute the general tone of the College and more so its present students whom I took to be well-behaved, respectful, and above all welcoming.
The work of the Brothers began a century ago at Our Lady’s Mount and I was honoured to participate in that ongoing work at Ignatius Park College and, more so, to return to celebrate those years. May the vision of Edmund Ignatius Rice continue to flourish into the future in the College named for his patron saint and which stands in continuity with the original site of the labours of the first Brothers to the city.
Christian Brother Neville Thornton
Published November 2011
To read a story about Ignatius Park College, see “Trafficside tranquillity – meditating under the mango tree” (July 2011) under our RECENT NEWS button.