Archived News Item

Cairns sisters gift college to diocese

After 85 years of faithful stewardship, the Cairns Sisters of Mercy have formally transferred ownership of Mount Saint Bernard College in Herberton to the Catholic Diocese of Cairns.


A special ceremony was held on October 12 to formalise the transfer of ownership and celebrate this historic occasion. The sisters and Bishop James Foley gathered with college staff, past and present students, parents and friends, staff of Catholic Education Services, and priests of the diocese.


A day of celebration

The day of celebration commenced in Mercy Hall with a visual presentation by Congregation Leader, Sister Faye Kelly RSM, which focussed on a journey through history, recalling the people and events of the last 85 years.


Mount St Bernard (MSB) has a rich history and tradition as mainly a boarding school for secondary girls from more isolated areas of Far North Queensland. During these years, primary school boys and girls also attended St Patrick’s Primary School, until it closed at the end of 1969, and boarded at MSB. In 1994, boys were enrolled as day students at the college.


After Sister Faye’s presentation, students received a specially designed bookmarkto commemorate the occasion from the sisters.


Sisters and guests enjoyed a formal lunch in the college dining room prepared by college staff and home economics students, while students and staff celebrated with a BBQ.


Following lunch all gathered in the Chapel for the celebration of Eucharist. Bishop James Foley, the main celebrant, was joined by eleven priests of the diocese. Before the final blessing Sister Faye spoke of the sisters’ contribution to MSB and the hopes of the sisters as the college becomes a Diocesan College.


She said: “Among the hopes of the sisters, is that the Mercy charism will remain an influence on the work of all involved in the operation of the college. Much of our history in this diocese is rooted in Mt St Bernard Convent and College as our motherhouse and order-owned ministry. Because our involvement in this particular school has been so extensive, it is of great importance to us that the ethos and character of the school be maintained and enhanced as it moves into the future.”


Mr Hadyn Flynn, Principal of Mt St Bernard expressed the gratitude of past and present staff and students for all that the sisters have given to the college over the first 85 years. He then made a statement of commitment that the current staff will continue to keep the Mercy charism strong in the college into the future.


All college staff members were presented with a gift of a candle, bearing the logos of the Sisters of Mercy, the Diocese of Cairns and Mt St Bernard College. Each also received a card which noted “the transition of Mt St Bernard College from the patronage of the Sisters of Mercy to the Diocese of Cairns 2006″ and invited the staff to remember Catherine’s dream for the poor and to embrace that dream.


Speaking on behalf of the people of the diocese, Bishop Foley expressed his gratitude to the sisters for their work at MSB and for the trust the sisters have placed in the diocese to take over this ministry. He also expressed his commitment to preserve the charism and work of the school into the future.


Bishop Foley and Mr Flynn unveiled the gift to the sisters which was accepted by Sister Faye. The symbolism of this gift was explained by Ms Carmel Ross, Director Catholic Education Services, as follows:


“The gift is a candle stand, created by Trevor Allwood at Tolga Woodworks, whose children are graduates of Mt St Bernard College. This candle stand has two major features – one a large wooden flame, symbolising the school motto of “let your light shine”; the other is a beaten metal pathway moving from the lower right hand side at the front to the left then climbing to wrap around the flame, ending behind a lacework section of the flame that can partly be seen through. The pathway represents the journey of Mt St Bernard College in particular, but also represents the journey of the Sisters of Mercy and Diocese of Cairns. 


Of importance is that there are holders on this stand for three candles, and I invite Hadyn Flynn, Principal of Mt St Bernard College, to light these now. There are three layers of symbolism these candles represent.


First, three is a significant number in Christianity, because we understand God to be a God of Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so the candles represent the God who lights our life and leads us into this ministry of Catholic education.


Second, there are three partners in the transition being celebrated today – the Sisters of Mercy, Mt St Bernard College, and the Diocese of Cairns. This is a relationship built on trust and goodwill, and on the understanding that when we act together in a spirit of faith, hope and love, what we achieve together is far greater than what any of us could have achieved alone, because the Holy Spirit’s presence will strengthen us and our work.


Third, the three candles represent time, and the journey of life – this is why they are placed on the pathway section of the candle stand. The candle at the lower right hand side, at the beginning of the pathway, represents the past of this school and this entire site at Herberton; the candle on the left hand side of the pathway, about half way along it, represents the present, including the moment of transition we are formalising today; the candle at the top will not be visible clearly, yet that is deliberate. This is the candle of the future – concealed behind lacework carved into the wooden flame. That partial concealment is an element of the future – the future is created by a combination of faith and prophetic vision, it always holds an element of mystery and the unknown, yet because we are people of hope we trust in God’s steadfastness to shepherd us along that journey.”


Following the final blessing and dismissal afternoon tea was served for staff and guests in the boarders’ dining room.


A copy of the charter acknowledging the transfer of ownership, signed by Sister Faye and Bishop Foley, can be downloaded here. This document outlines the commitment of the diocese to exercise stewardship of the site and the works conducted at it, seeking to preserve the charism of Mercy which underpins that ministry.


History of the College

The Sisters of Mercy opened St Patrick’s Convent and Primary School in Herberton in 1910.  Mount Saint Bernard College opened in 1921 after a decision to relocate St Mary’s Boarding School, Cooktown. At this time, gold was on the decline in the Cooktown area and Herberton was a booming tin mining centre with a less severe climate than Cooktown. Mount St Bernard College was the first secondary school to open on the Atherton Tablelands. For 85 years, the sisters have administered the college and created a rich history through their interaction with students and families, the local community and parish, and those who worked with them.


Background to the transfer of ownership

Mount Saint Bernard College Herberton inherited a tradition dating from the earliest days of the local Church of the Diocese of Cairns when five Sisters of Mercy from Dungarvan County Waterford Ireland came to minister in Cooktown at the invitation of Bishop John Hutchinson.


Since the early 1990s, the Cairns Sisters of Mercy have reflected upon possible ways to complement our own involvement in the College. In 2003, the sisters entered into formal discussions with the Bishop of Cairns, Bishop James Foley and the Director of Catholic Education Ms Carmel Ross, and further consultation with the college staff and the college board about options that would secure the future of the college.


This resulted in Sisters of Mercy placing the school into the care of the diocese. We acknowledged with gratitude the decision of the diocese, through Bishop Foley, to accept ownership of Mount St Bernard College. We also appreciate the commitment of Mr Hayden Flynn and the total staff of the college, and, the staff of Catholic Education Services for their willingness to embrace the path of mercy as it unfolds at MSB.


Photo: Standing around the scupture (gift) L-R Carmel Ross (Executive Director of Catholic Education Services, Bishop James Foley, Mr Hayden Flynn (College Principal) and Sister Faye Kelly RSM (Cairns Congregation Leader).


From: Sister Faye Kelly RSM, Cairns Congregation Leader