Mother M. Xavier Flood and Early Education in Ballarat East
Mother M. Xavier Flood (c.1850- 1919) was an Irish Sister of Mercy who went on Foundation to Victoria, Australia in 1872. Until 1881 she worked at Warrnambool, assisting in the establishment of St Anne’s College, where she was recognised as a charming woman with a remarkable ability in education and administration.
Mother M. Xavier moved to Ballarat East in 1881 with the founding Sisters and during the early years they worked in great poverty but in spite of this the community grew. On 30th June 1890, Mother M. Xavier was elected superior of the community and under her guidance the Congregation began to make a significant contribution to local education.
The Registration of Teachers and Schools Act, 1905, which required all persons employed as teachers other than in State schools to be registered set in motion a new significant project for the Sisters. In 1909 the Sisters of Mercy Ballarat East running non-government schools submitted their teacher training scheme to the Board of the Education Department to run their own training College in Ballarat East. This application was approved for the training of primary and secondary teachers to start after the 1st of January 1910. With this approval Mother M. Xavier established the Aquin Training College and teachers who had not already registered with the State by virtue of their years of experience received a two year course of training there.
In 1914 Mother M. Xavier Flood travelled to Rome and the Continent and brought back with her 48 sets of the Froebel “Gifts” an early-childhood educational method created by Friedrich Froebel. With her usual zeal she had established a complete Froebel Kindergarten well before the end of 1917, the only one of its kind in Ballarat East, if not Victoria. Amongst our heritage items from the Ballarat East Collection is “Gift 1” which is believed to be one of the original wooden boxes brought back. The contents, crocheted coloured balls will have been remade many times over during the years by the Sisters.
Amongst the library from Ballarat East we also have many early educational books such as “Infant Class Management – A Manual for Infant Class Teachers” by Mrs Lewis. This book is stamped “S. Heart Convent of Mercy, Victoria Street, East Ballarat’ and in black ink “Noviceship” no doubt for use by trainee teachers. These books in the library collection show the dedication and time spent in learning about the new methods of early childhood educational development.
Mother M. Xavier’s educational aspirations, while stressing the essentials, continued in every department to cultivate the young mind for an appreciation of the arts. Her aim was to educate all under her influence to their full potential and to assist each to develop the natural gifts and aptitudes of their personality. The driving force and the secret of her extraordinary success lay in an austere spirituality built on a firm belief in Divine Providence.
Note: This text is based on archival material sourced from the Ballarat East Collection now housed at the Institute Archives and Heritage Centre, Leichhardt, NSW.