This year, Loreto celebrates 125 years of ministry in Western Australia.
In 1895, the Bishop of Perth, Bishop Matthew Gibney, visited Mary’s Mount in Ballarat to speak to Mother Gonzaga Barry about beginning a Loreto foundation in Perth. According to the Bishop, “the people are pouring in, and the gold is pouring out.”
Unfortunately, Mother Gonzaga was not in a position to start such a venture immediately but promised to make a start in the next year or so.
True to her word, on 31 August 1896, Mothers Gonzaga Barry and Sisters de Sales Field and Aloysius Macken departed Ballarat for Perth to investigate the possibility of founding a convent and school. They arrived in Perth on 8 September 1896.
The Bishop showed the Sisters available land, and they decided to purchase blocks in the Claremont area. Without wasting any time, the Sisters engaged an architect to draw up some concept plans for a new school. All in hand, or so they thought, the Sisters returned to Ballarat.
Despite early promise, they faced many frustrating financial issues and delays. However, still keen to get started in Perth, a house was rented in Adelaide Terrace as a temporary measure. ‘Albaredo’ belonged to the Vanzetti family and was available on a six-month lease. Mother de Sales Field and a community of six left Ballarat for Perth and opened a day school on 15 February 1897, beginning Loreto’s presence in the West.
When the lease was up, Loreto purchased another property in Adelaide Terrace, ‘The Bracken’, which served as the Loreto Convent and School until 1937.
The Osborne Hotel
The first Claremont property purchased had proved unsuitable, possibly because of the expense of building a school from scratch. Needing to expand, in 1901, Mother Gonzaga Barry found the perfect property for another Western Australia foundation. The ‘Osborne Hotel’, also in Claremont, was built by James Grave in 1894.
When first opened, the hotel had been a popular resort but had fallen on hard times by 1898 when Grave sold it to W.D. Moore, who then sold the property to Loreto. The hotel was spectacularly located on the Swan River, with views of the river and the Indian Ocean. The purchase also included various accommodation cottages, a river, a swimming pool, and landscaped gardens.
Furniture and fittings of the hotel were also purchased. Utilitarian objects such as plates and cutlery and some ornamental furnishings can be seen in the Loreto Nedlands’ Heritage Room and the Freshwater Bay Museum in Claremont.
Boarders from Loreto Convent Adelaide Terrace became the first pupils; the day pupils remaining at Adelaide Terrace. The following year, day pupils were also enrolled at Claremont. A chapel and sleeping accommodation for the Sisters were added in 1937. The old derelict hotel building was demolished in 1963 to make way for a modern school building.
In 1977, Loreto Claremont amalgamated with the Jesuit’s St. Louis College to become the co-educational John XXIII College. John XXIII moved to its current site in 1986, and the Claremont site was sold and subsequently redeveloped.
The site at Nedlands was purchased in 1928 and initially envisaged as a university college. However, the increasing population of the surrounding area meant the need for a school was greater. The foundation stone for the new school was laid on 21 November 1930 with the Western Australian Sisters present. The first wing was completed, and the first day of school was on 10 February 1931.
In subsequent years, the Loreto Sisters remained active in the West, opening new communities and staffing parish primary schools. They also served in the Kimberley, working in the schools and communities of Broome, Lombadina and Derby.
Loreto Sisters continue their presence in Perth, with involvement at John XXIII College and Loreto Nedlands Primary School.
Author: Robin Scott, Province Archivist