The Society of Jesus, founded by a one-time Spanish soldier, St Ignatius Loyola, first came to Australia in 1848.
A group of Austrian citizens led by a certain Franz Weikert, formed a plan to get away from the European turbulence of the time and to seek a better and more peaceful life under the Southern Cross. They chartered a ship and set sail from Hamburg in August of that year to settle in South Australia. On board as chaplains were two Jesuit priests. Shortly after arrival one of them had to return because of ill health. The other, Fr Aloysius Kranewitter, moved north of Adelaide some ninety miles to a district called Sevenhill, about four miles from Clare. Here were built, when reinforcements had arrived, a large church with stone quarried from the site and a fine school, St Aloysius' College, no longer used as such. A vineyard was planted. Some of these vines are, we are told, still bearing good grapes. The Austrian Fathers later opened a mission for the aborigines on the Daly River which, after a heroic struggle, was finally abandoned... but that is another story.
Some sixteen years after the arrival of the Austrian Fathers, the College of St Patrick adjoining the Cathedral in Melbourne was in difficulty and facing closure. The Austrian Fathers with their language handicap, their shortage of manpower and their vast missionary activity in South Australia, were unable to help. The Archbishop, Dr Goold, turned to the Irish Province of the Society for assistance and, in 1865, two priests were sent to take charge of the College, one of whom was Fr. William Kelly. In due time, more men arrived and in the short space of ten years the small band achieved spectacular progress. The fine churches of Richmond and Hawthorn were built and Xavier College, Kew, was opened. It was to this band that an appeal came from Sydney for assistance.
The first archbishop of Sydney, Dr Polding, was a member of the Order of St Benedict and he was keen to organise his Catholic community along Benedictine lines. To cater for the education of Catholic boys he established Lyndhurst College in Glebe, a suburb west of Sydney. From the outset there were difficulties about obtaining suitable staff from the English Province of the Order, and there was the constant worry of finance. Bitter, acrimonious debate filled the press in those days, as in later years, about the use of government money for the support of Catholic schools. Sir Henry Parkes was adamant that education should be "free, secular and compulsory". Lyndhurst struggled for some years and was finally forced to close its doors in 1877.
Dr Roger Bede Vaughan, also a Benedictine, who succeeded Dr Polding as Archbishop, found himself without a college for boys in the growing Catholic community, and he was being constantly petitioned to find a solution to the problem.
Fr. Joseph Dalton, who was sent to Sydney by the Superior, Fr. Cahill in answer to an urgent appeal from His Grace, recalls his first meeting with the Archbishop. Dr. Vaughan informed him that he had had a friendly warning from his brother, then Bishop of Salford in England, that the day he invited the Jesuits into his archdiocese he could be cutting a rod with which to scourge himself. However in the circumstances, he was forced to take a risk and jokingly remarked to Fr. Dalton: "You don't look like a person that would scourge me too severely". Towards the end of 1878 Dr Dalton returned to Sydney with Fr. Kennedy to seek out a site, first for a city day school and later, if possible, a site for a boarding school. After prolonged discussion and searching, a property known as St Kilda House on the corner of Cathedral Street and Palmer Street was rented at £260 per annum. Built in 1844 by Charles Scott on part of a grant made to John Palmer, purser on the First Fleet ship Sirius, it was a fine Georgian style mansion with fifteen rooms. The building has since, unfortunately, been demolished. St Kilda House was blessed by the Archbishop and its first pupils admitted on 3rd February, 1879. Some forty-five pupils were enrolled on the first day but the number gradually increased during the year to one hundred and fifteen.
Before long it became obvious that the site and its surroundings were far from ideal for a College. The pupils had transport difficulties and some had long walks to school. In addition, the children of the locality resented the intrusion of "college boys" into their district and expressed themselves accordingly. In September, 1883, the College moved up the city to a property known as Auburn Villa in Darlinghurst. It had been purchased from the Iredale family for £6,975 and classes were resumed there on 17th September. Though the house had only eleven rooms, the area offered very considerable advantages. Before long, a new wing was built at a cost of £5,000. The entire building was later demolished to make way for St Margaret's Maternity Hospital. St Kilda House was obviously accepted in a hurry to meet an urgent need and Fr. Dalton had little choice. The Bourke Street site, however, had greater scope and potential. The name "Auburn Villa" was changed on purchase to St Aloysius, the patron of youth. Numbers fluctuated considerably towards the end of the century. In their letters to the Jesuit Superior, Rectors constantly pleaded for more staff, telling of their constant financial struggle to exist. Tempora non mutantur. They managed to exist and at times there were brighter sides to the picture.
Across the harbour, on the North Shore, meanwhile, the Society of Jesus had taken charge of the parish of St Mary's, North Sydney, which at that time, in 1878, extended north to the Hawkesbury River. A small, stone church built in 1863 by Congregationalists, Wesleyans and Anglicans had fallen into disuse through lack of a congregation. This church was purchased by the Jesuits in 1880 as an outlying church to serve the district of Kirribilli and Milsons Point. But the few priests at North Sydney were finding it increasingly difficult to attend to their huge parish. His Eminence, Cardinal Moran, then Archbishop of Sydney, kept urging the Jesuits to move their College from Bourke Street to a site near the little church and thus give regular service to the Catholics of the area.
In 1902, a property owned by Dr Cox, adjoining the little church was rented for £225 and a few years later bought for £4,500. The area bounded by Jeffrey St, Clapham Rise (Upper Pitt St) and Campbell St (Kirribilli Ave) was small - about three quarters of an acre. The building with its crenellated tower and lace iron balconies was set in picturesque surroundings and commanded an unimpeded view of the Harbour to east and west. Here on the second day of February, 1903, the third stage of the College's history was begun. Even though the number of pupils on the opening day was less than fifty, this increased before long, and again additional accommodation became a pressing need. A wooden building was hastily erected on the spot where now stands stage four of the new school. This wooden building serviced as classrooms and study hall until it was replaced in 1907-1908 by a fine three-storeyed brick building later known as the Junior School. As the Community increased, additional rooms became necessary and in 1913-1914 a new wing was constructed on the eastern side of the original residence. Then in 1916 an attractive property known as Wyalla, opposite the College in Upper Pitt Street, came on the market. Money again was a problem but it was eventually borrowed and Wyalla became the "Senior School".
In the early 1920s, a property off Sailors Bay Road, Northbridge, stretching down to Middle Harbour, was purchased as a site for badly needed playing fields. A good deal of excavating and levelling would have had to be carried out including a retaining wall built on the Harbour side before it could be used. The techniques and machinery which were devised during the Second World War had not been thought of then. So the property remained undeveloped. It was an ambitious project, and had it materialised, would today be a very valuable asset. It was finally sold in 1939 and provided finance for the purchase of some market gardens in Tyneside Avenue, East Willoughby, which forms the present College Sports Ground.
A new entrance to the College was built in 1937, and in 1939 a generous benefactor of the College, Mrs Angela Hepburn, provided the necessary money to remodel the little church. The entrance was changed from south to north, a small porch was built, a sanctuary and two sacristies added. To the regret of everyone concerned this building has had to make way for the new school.
The war years brought a drop in numbers, piles of sand bags to prevent blast from anticipated Japanese bombs and strong, wooden fortification to prevent roofs collapsing.
In 1954, new science laboratories and some offices were added to Wyalla. The number of pupils however, after the war, increased more rapidly than the development of accommodation. By the late fifties it was clear that a major decision on the College's future was no longer avoidable. There appeared to be only three available options in this decision.
One was to dose down the College gradually. For all those who had been connected with St. Aloysius' and had worked hard for its success, this would have been a most unpopular choice. However, had it proved to be the only possible one, the machinery was ready to implement it. The second option was to seek another suitable site in the vicinity, if such were available, and to make a fresh start.
In fact, no site, comparable with the present one, was available. Part of the Jesuit owned property in Merrivale Rd, Pymble, was suggested as a possible location, if this could be procured. The financial commitment involved in such a move, apart from other considerations, was more than the College could carry. A very attractive invitation came from Archbishop Eris O'Brien to move the College to Canberra where some twenty acres and substantial financial assistance were available. After much debate and discussion, and indeed with no small reluctance, this kind offer was turned down. The third possible option was to stay at Milsons Point and re-develop the site. The representative of the Jesuit General, Fr. John McMahon, who was then visiting the country, and the Provincial Superior, Fr. Jeremiah Hogan, favoured this third option as being in the best interests of the Catholic community and of the College itself.
Accordingly, with the help of Mr G J Dusseldorp, the co-operation of the Commonwealth Bank and the support of Fr. Hogan, the College began, in 1961, the task of rebuilding. The limitations of the site and the fact that existing buildings could not be demolished beforehand, restricted Fr. John Casey, the Rector, in his plan and the architect, Mr Robert Metcalfe, in his design. In approximately ten years, with the enthusiastic support of parents and Old Boys, four stages of the building were completed.
To celebrate its one hundredth birthday, the College embarked on the fifth and final stage. In 1981 Stage five (Administration, Entrance gates, Canteen, Library, Study room, Community rooms, Classrooms) was opened.
A real dilemma faced the College despite the completion of Stage 5. There literally was not enough room to house the College enrolment. For some years (assisted by the proposal of building the Harbour Tunnel) investigations were carried out to see if it was possible to once again move. In 1991 a conclusion was reached in the decision to purchase the Milsons Point Primary School and develop a Junior School Campus. Single mindedly a committee developed from the fledgling St. Aloysius' College Foundation set out to win the property for the College. In a closed-tender situation the College was awarded the property. In 1992 the contract for the development of the site was awarded to Civil and Civic and the construction of the Junior School Campus in Burton St, Milsons Point commenced. In 1993, it was blessed and opened.
In 1995 to free up space for the College, the Jesuit community left the main building for a refurbished community house at 38 Jeffrey Street. The top two floors were renovated to accommodate Year 12 while renovations for a new Senior School on the Wyalla site took place. At the commencement of the scholastic year in 1997, the Senior School, accommodating Years 11 and 12 was opened and blessed by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Dean, the provincial of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Daven Day S.J. and the Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Right Reverend David Cremin DD.
After its Hebrew-like wanderings, St Aloysius' College has come to rest facing Sydney's towering skyline, in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge.