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The Building

99 Albert Road, Strathfield

What we now know as the Institute Building was built around 1891 for the New South Wales Home Lending Society for the Blind, the Industrial Home for Blind Women and Retreat for Aged Female Blind. It was designed by Harry Kent to house thirty women, and the government contributed 12, 800 pounds towards continuing construction. The building is listed in Morton Herman’s The Architecture of Victorian Sydney (1956).

There are two foundation stones. One was laid on 24th March, 1891, by the Right Honorable, The Countess of Jersey, who is named as patroness of the institution. The other was laid on the same day by Mrs. H. S. Prescott, who, it notes, had founded the institution some eight years earlier on 21st March, 1883, presumably at another location.

Scandal broke upon the institution, and in 1897 the government established a Royal Commission into its operation. The main issues were the amount of government money that had been spent on land and buildings, a certain harshness in Mrs. Prescott’s treatment of the ladies, lack of proper care of the aged blind at night, lack of income for inmates from the work of the industrial home, and the activities of Mr. Prescott. Mr. Prescott, himself blind, was known, among other things, to sing the notorious song “They must wear their corsets loose who dine with Gipsy John” to the inmates. The government closed the institution and forced the auction of two large buildings and six blocks of land in 1903.

In the early part of the century the Bedford Collegiate School used the building for girls. It appears to have been an exclusive school, and its principal was C. W. Rock.

In perhaps the twenties or thirties, the building became the Post Master General’s Department School. This was when postal and telecommunication operations were run by one department. The small waiting room on the second floor is a relic of these days and was the manual telephonist training room. It was still fitted out in this way when the building was bought by the church.

The building was occupied by the Catholic Institute of Sydney in late November, 1995, and blessed by Cardinal Edward Clancy on 5th May, 1996.

(See: Michael Jones, Oasis in the West: Strathfield’s First Hundred Years (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1985), 114-117).

Historical Background

St Patrick’s College was established at Manly, on the northern side of Sydney Harbour, by Patrick Francis Cardinal Moran, third Archbishop of Sydney, as the Major Seminary of his Diocese, in 1889. In 1909 he founded St Columba’s College at Springwood, in the lower Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, with the intention of using it eventually to train priests for the missions of the Pacific Islands; in fact, it was, for its entire existence, a seminary for the local church, sometimes as the house of philosophical studies of the Major Seminary, and sometimes as a Minor Seminary. They constituted the only Major Seminary in Australia, until the opening of Regional Seminaries in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, in the second quarter of the following century; after that, they served the dioceses of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. 

On 11th February, 1954, the Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities canonically erected within the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Sydney – that is, in St Patrick’s College, Manly and St Columba’s College, Springwood – an Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology, Facultas Theologica Sydneyensis, for Australia, New Zealand, and all Oceania. In 1976 the Faculty was renamed the Catholic Institute of Sydney. At the end of 1977 St Columba’s College was closed, and the Major Seminary and the Faculty were confined to St Patrick’s College at Manly.

In 1996 the Catholic Institute of Sydney moved from Manly to new premises at Strathfield, a short distance from the re-located Major Seminary at Homebush. The Institute’s premises at Strathfield provide office space for faculty, administration offices, lecture rooms, an auditorium, and chapel. Special facilities were built to house the Veech Library and provide facilities for readers in the library.