In 1857 Australia’s first Archbishop, John Bede Polding, established the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict. Their mission was to care for the needy women of the new colony and educate children. The order set up their first school in Sussex Street, Sydney in 1861 and eventually migrated around Australia. The Archdiocese of Melbourne was founded in 1848 when the first Bishop, the Most Reverend Alypius Goold was consecrated. Around that time the population of Victoria numbered 11,738 of which 2,411 were Catholic. By 1851 that number had swollen to 18,000 and by 1857 with the gold rush underway, to a massive 88,000. Goold’s energies in these early years went into reaching out to and maintaining Catholic order around the state particularly in the growing towns of Ballarat and Bendigo.
Goold was made the first Archbishop of Melbourne and Metropolitan Victoria in 1874 and became determined to provide religious instruction as part of a wider education. To assist him the Sisters of Mercy, the Good Shepherd, Little Sisters of the Poor and the Christian Brothers were among the orders providing education and charitable work around Victoria. In the years between 1887 and 1908, concerned by the rise of state secular schooling, Goold’s successor, the Most Reverend Thomas Joseph Carr focused on the Catholic education of Victoria.
The Convent of the Good Samaritan was established in 1904 at "Maesbury", the former residence of of Rev. Caleb Booth on Separation Street in Northcote. It was one of the orders administering privately funded Catholic schools around Melbourne and this convent provided education at the Catholic schools of the Preston, Northcote, Thornbury, South Yarra and North Fitzroy areas. Total numbers of students in catholic schools increased from 11,661 in 1887 to 25,369 by the end of 1908 and the building underwent expansion renovations erecting a two storey school block convent in Lawry Street. Students from the Good Samaritan schools were always well represented in the yearly music examination results for the prestigious English music schools, Trinity College of Music and the London College of Music.
In May 1933 two thousand past pupils attended a meeting in Northcote to discuss forming an Old Scholars Association. On the motion of Mr Frank Brennan a six person committee of representatives from each school in the collective was formed to work in the interests of the sisters and the Old Scholars Association.
Sisters from the Good Samaritan worked as teachers in many schools around Darebin. They took over the administration of St Joseph's in 1904 when the percentage of Catholics in Northcote's popluation was less than twenty but growing steadily. When St Mary’s opened in Thornbury in 1920, Sisters Avellino Robinson and Hyacinth O’Connor were the school’s first two teachers. They travelled across from the Northcote convent each day.
Today the Sisters of the Good Samaritan still have ownership of eleven schools around Australia including the former convent in Northcote now Santa Maria College. Governance of the schools however has passed to incorporated company entities with Boards of Directors.
In 1996 Sisters Anne Dixon and Helen Mills opened a shelter for homeless women and children in Westgarth called The Good Samaritan Inn. This moved later to the Preston convent and operates there today.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
ITEMS OF INTEREST: GOOD SAMARITAN OLD SCHOLARS. (1933, May 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1956), p.9