A historic journey
In 2009 St Aloysius’ College, a Jesuit boys’ school in Milsons Point, was granted a lease on the former St Vincent’s Presbytery site at 117 Redfern Street, Redfern. The vision was to found a free school that could mentor, educate and assist local disadvantaged children.
But the history of the site as a centre for shelter and protection for the poor and persecuted of inner Sydney dates back much further.
The site was first commissioned as a school in 1885 by the Patrician Brothers, who arrived from Ireland with the purpose of setting up a series of Catholic primary schools in the area. Named St Vincent de Paul Church School, after the 17th century French priest who devoted his life to serving the poor, it was designed by prominent religious architects Sheerin and Hennessy, who also designed St Patrick’s College in Manly and St Joseph’s in Hunters Hill.
Early Aboriginal settlers
A church was added to the school grounds in the early 1900s, and a few years later many Aboriginal people began to migrate to the area, having lost their lands following the enaction of the so-called ‘NSW Aborigines Protection Act’ of 1909. Many found work in the Eveleigh Railway Yards, but there was a mass exodus of Aboriginal people in the 1930s to the La Perouse area as unemployment began to rise.
The school on the St Vincent’s site was closed in 1967, just as the area became a centre of refuge again for Aboriginal people, after many were ousted from makeshift camps in south-east Sydney by the local council. By this time the Aboriginal population of the area was between 4,000 and 9,000, with poverty and overcrowding rife as discrimination prevented many Aboriginal people from renting a home. Complaints about police mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Redfern were also common.
Father Ted’s refuge
It was around this time that Father Ted Kennedy, a former chaplain of Sydney University, was granted the Redfern parish. Shocked by the poverty and violence inflicted on the local population, he opened St Vincent’s presbytery up as a refuge to all Aboriginal people seeking shelter from poverty, homelessness and police brutality. Together with local Aboriginal woman Shirley Smith, better known as ‘Mum Shirl’, he initiated many vital local community services that remain to this day, including the Aboriginal Medical Centre and Aboriginal housing on the Block.
Father Ted remained as priest of St Vincent’s for 30 years, and was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2001 for his services to the Aboriginal community. He died in 2005, and Sydney City Council made St Vincent’s a site of historical significance.
After a long period of development and consultation with the local community, Jarjum College was opened on the St Vincent’s grounds in March 2013. The school aims to preserve Father Ted and Mum Shirl’s vision of assistance and comfort for those in need – an aim that is reflected in the golden statue and profile bearing their likenesses outside the school walls.