In the early decades of this century, the Catholic Church in Australia being committed to providing a school system for Catholic children, was continually expanding its efforts through the work of Religious Brothers and Sisters. The Christian Brothers played a significant role in this nation in educating boys. In those days, Wollongong was part of the Sydney Archdiocese and there was no secondary Catholic school for boys in the region.
The early Parish Priests of Wollongong Parish, such as Fathers Walsh and Dunne, had associations with the Christian Brothers from their years in Ireland and asked the Provincial of the Christian Brothers for the Brothers to open a school. The Parish worked very hard to raise the funds to build the school and Brothers’ residence at the top of Crown Lane and so began Christian Brothers College (CBC) in January 1926. Later it was re-named Edmund Rice College. The colours chosen from the beginning were red and black.
The first Headmaster was Br T. A. McMahon and three other Brothers made up that first staff and community. At the commencement there were 105 pupils aged from seven to sixteen years, but numbers soon increased. In the early months, many of these boys were noted for their total lack of discipline and interest in schooling. However that soon changed and by 1927 the College presented its first candidates for the demanding Intermediate Examination (for those completing three years of secondary schooling). In 1929, it presented its first candidates for the Leaving Certificate. In 1932, the College was registered under the Bursary Endowment Act.
The years of the Great Depression hit the area very hard, yet by 1935 enrolments climbed to 300 students. In 1938, one class made up of second and third class boys numbered 100 pupils and was taught by a single brother. This was not an uncommon situation in many Catholic schools before government funding was introduced. There were no funds to pay teachers and the system almost totally relied on Religious Brothers and Sisters. Extensions to the existing building became necessary.
An Old Boys Union, or association, was formed in 1931 and in 1933; a Brother’s club (for Rugby League) was formed by the Headmaster, Brother J S Campbell. It gained entry into the Illawarra District First Grade competition in 1938. This Brother’s Club eventually evolved and expanded into The Collegians Club.
The pioneering years gave way to the forties. First, there were the shortages occasioned by the war years and later the increasing numbers stretching resources to the limit. These years saw the introduction of technical education (woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing). A lot of emphasis was placed on rote learning and on examination success, the latter was seen as a passport to better jobs and careers. Relatively few students stayed on to complete their Intermediate Examination and fewer still for the Leaving Certificate, jobs were readily available. The forties also saw the first old boy priests ordained and the first old boy Christian Brothers. A Cadet Unit was formed in 1945, in that year too the first lay teacher was employed.
Some quite good examination results, annual concerts, excellent choirs, gymnastics displays and sport, especially rugby league, all played their part in establishing the school’s character and good reputation.
In 1952, Wollongong became a Diocese and Thomas McCabe its first Bishop. He was interested in the College and in his first years was prepared to allocate funds for much needed maintenance. He set out to address the problem of overcrowding – enrolments were now 450.
It was Bishop McCabe who handed over the title deeds of the property in Crown Lane to the Brothers in 1958 and he supported the efforts of the Brothers to purchase property on the current site in West Wollongong. The Brothers agreed to phase out the primary classes and specialise in secondary education in order to be able to admit more students. However, with so many applying, enrolments had to be selective. The Brother’s residence had to be expanded, the number of Brothers in residence was now nine and the place impossibly cramped.
On the 29th April 1962 the new school at West Wollongong was officially blessed and opened by Bishop McCabe. It consisted of a two-storey section of five classrooms with a shelter area beneath and a single storey section of physics, chemistry and demonstration laboratories and storerooms. The original buildings face Keira Park. The introduction of the Wyndham scheme necessitated more buildings. More land on the site was purchased and in the early seventies, with Capital Grants available from the Federal government, the science wing, more classrooms and library were added and more building followed.
The first public examinations in the School Certificate, which replaced the old Intermediate, was in 1965 and the Higher School Certificate followed two years later. The 1960′s saw the introduction of the Parents’ and Friends’ Association in 1968 and the College Band were first formed in 1967.
From the start of 1975 the College operated completely from the current site. Forms 1 and 2 (now known as Years 7 and 8) for some years had remained on the Crown Lane site.
The late seventies and eighties saw much building on the new site. The old Crown Lane building was sold in 1979 to Kembla Coal and Coke and the Brothers moved residence to the new site. Part of the foundation of the new residence has bricks from the old residence and remnants of the demolished buildings were used as fill to make the playing fields of the new. Thus was the new linked with the old; out of the ruins of the old something new was established and two eras were linked. Under the Headmasters Brother Pelin, Lennox and Evans, the Technics Block and the Multi Purpose Hall, the Administration Building, the Chapel and a new classroom block were constructed.
The nineties saw the introduction in 1991 of the Extended Hours model of schooling allowing maximum use of resources and offsetting the need for further building.
From 2005 the College witnessed a range of changes that included the completion of a Trade Training Centre, which led to a growth in Vocational Education in the provision of curriculum. The unique Metal and Engineering Centre provided a vocational pathway for students that have continued to draw many students to the College. A strong emphasis on the Arts in the provision of curriculum and extracurricular opportunities has become a feature of the College in the past decade. Excellence in the Performing Arts has complemented what has always been a proud sporting history at Edmund Rice College.
In 2013 the College underwent a significant change of direction with a shift after 22 years from the extended day model to a common school day for all students. The decision to adopt new times – 8 am to 2.05pm – was in response to an extensive university of Wollongong study of parents, staff, students and members of the community.
Other developments have witnessed a new direction in the provision of technology with the provision of new infrastructure and a move to a 1:1 platform with students using iPads in the Junior school and laptops in the senior school.
A new building program has also commenced. Following the completion of a new 10 year Strategic Resource Plan for the College in 2012 the College completed a Sporting Hall Project in May 2014 that offers seating for 1500 people, two indoor basketball courts, a mezzanine level gymnasium, Drama and PDHPE classrooms and a foyer that will also be utilised as a large meeting room for the College community.
In 2015 the Ground Improvement Program was completed in the central College Quads with new gardens, planting, COLAs and verandahs. Improvements to the playing fields in the College, the development of a new oval and the revitalisation to roads, gardens and courts in the Mt Keira Road section of the College, in addition to a $4 million dollar Library refurbishment and expansion, new classrooms, and a Music Centre were also completed at the end of 2015.
The provision of new curriculum opportunities, facilities and improvements to the grounds as well as rapid growth in our Old Boys’ Network are all examples of the momentum for change that is currently underpinning much of the College’s strategic planning and development. The recent growth of the College and changes to its facilities and operations complement the rich tradition and history of this proud Wollongong institution.