Window Detail of the Children's Chapel Loreto College - Sturt Street, Ballarat
Loreto College Ballarat, a Catholic school for girls was established in 1875 by Mother Gonzaga Barry (1834 – 1915) a member of the order of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose members are commonly known as the Sisters of Loreto; a courageous woman with a truly visionary approach that saw her create educational opportunities for girls never before considered in the society of that day. The Loreto Sisters arrived in Australia in response to a request by the Bishop of Ballarat, Bishop O'Connell. The group of ten sisters from Ireland, led by Mother Gonzaga Barry, set up a convent in Ballarat, Victoria and their first girls school, known as Mary's Mount, which today is known as Loreto College.
When they arrived in Ballarat, the Mother Superior set about acquiring a property at 1600 Sturt Street. Under the sandstone facade of the main front building that exists today, you will find the original house purchased by the Loreto Sisters. The Regency style house was built for Edward Agar Wynne around 1868 as a family home. Today’s entrance was originally the back entrance as the house fronted Lake Wendouree. The upper floor and the Gothic facade were added in 1914. To the right, attached to the original building is the residential wing which was built in 1882. This contained a schoolroom on the ground floor and boarders’ dormitories above.
The Sisters of Loreto were anxious to build a wall around the convent for privacy. Indeed, in earlier times the order was kept semi-enclosed, which enabled limited contact with the world outside the convent walls. The convent was built in 1881 largely through donations. The grand gateway was designed by architect William Tappin.
The Loreto Chapel, or Children’s Chapel as it is known, was built between 1898 and 1902. The architect was William Tappin and the builder George Lorimer. It is built in an English Gothic style with French influences. The stone from which it is constructed is Barrabool Hills sandstone taken from a quarry near Geelong. It also features white stone detailing from Oamaru in New Zealand. Building was interrupted through lack of funds, but the project was finally completed with a large bequest from the German Countess Elizabeth Wolff-Metternich, who had arrived at Ballarat unannounced in 1898, was captivated by the post Gold Rush city and decided to teach German to the Loreto students. A direct descendent of St Elizabeth of Hungary, Countess Elizabeth later found that she loved the peace and simplicity of the Mary's Mount cloister, and informed Mother Gonzaga that she wished to be accepted as a novice. The Mother Superior urged the young woman to return to Germany to discuss her future with her family prior to making a decision. Sadly, Countess Elizabeth was never to return to Ballarat: tragedy struck the RMS India, in the Straits of Messina en route Europe, when Countess Elizabeth died suddenly in April 1899, possibly from cholera, as she was nursing sick passengers on board the ship during its journey. When her will was read, it was found that Countess Elizabeth had left a generous 16,000 pounds to the astonished Mother Gonzaga to `be used as she thought fit'. Funds were once again available to finish the Children's Chapel, but there was to be another, seemingly impenetrable, obstacle: Germany had instituted a law forbidding money to be sent out of the country, so the funds remained frozen in Germany indefinitely. However, Countess Elizabeth's relatives contacted their distant relative, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (eldest grandson of England's Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) to petition that the funds be released for the Australian convent. It was only through the direct intervention of the Kaiser that the law was waived in this particular case. The Children’s Chapel was officially opened in December 1902.
The inside of the Children’s Chapel is decorated in soft pastel colours with artwork and statuary donated to the Sisters of Loreto by families in Ballarat and back in Ireland. The Rose Window over the Organ Gallery depicts Saint Cecilia the patron saint of music, surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists, Matthew Mark Luke and John. The windows over the alter depict the instruments of the Passion of Christ. The marble alter features the Nativity scene as was requested by the girls attending Loreto at the time.
To the right of the driveway as you enter Loreto College stands a small building, which is the former St. Anne’s Primary School. It was the original parish school built in 1908. St. Anne’s was closed in the early 1920s, and became a finishing school for the daughters of the well-to-do of Ballarat and its surrounding districts. With the advent of the Great Depression, the need for a finishing school dwindled, and by the mid 1930s, St. Anne’s had become a Priest’s Chalet which it remained until 1941 when it became a kindergarten. The kindergarten finally closed in 1978, but not before the old school was completely swallowed by additions and modifications in the 1960s. A mine shaft was discovered when the 1960s extension was built. Today, St. Anne’s sits peacefully amid the grounds of Loreto College and at the time of photographing was being restored to its former Edwardian glory.
To the left of the entrance gates is the Rosary Way. This is a walk to be taken whilst saying the prayers of the Rosary. The Loreto College Rosary way is modelled on the Rosary Way in the Aylesford Priory Gardens in Kent. At the end of the Rosary Way is the Lourdes Grotto, built in commemoration of the grotto in Lourdes where Our lady of Lourdes appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. This is the second Lourdes Grotto, the first more elaborate two storey structure having been moved to make way for the Children’s Chapel. The Lourdes Grotto contains a small stone from Lourdes brought back by Mother Gorzaga Barry from her journey to Europe in 1894.