Meet the pioneering Sisters of St Raphael's

For St Raphael's the next 12 months is about acknowledging the school's past and looking forward to leaving a legacy for the future.

We continue our story of the history of St Raphael's Catholic School to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

We start with the early pioneering Brigidine Sisters.

On June 29, 1894, the first party of Brigidines arrived in Cowra.

Mother Superior Aloysius Shanahan was accompanied by Mistress of Novices Mother Alacoque Miller, Sister Catherine Bergin and a novice, Sister Stanislaus Nolan.

Early accounts suggest the Sisters braved the threatening winter flooding of the Castlereagh River.

The second party of Sister Francis Humphreys, novice Sister Brigid Kelly and postulant Marie Barry (Sister Alphonsus) also set out for Cowra hoping to beat the rising waters.

They travelled at night by the "light of two candles stuck in a lemonade bottles on the front of the coach".

They arrived in Cowra at 2am weary and exhausted but excited to take up the mission of continuing the school and work of the Jospehite Sisters.

They re-opened the school on the July 9, 1894, with 61 pupils in an ironbark shed on the school grounds.

The high school began the following day with one student.

The Sisters had a continuing financial struggle to grow their little school.

To finance their new venture the Sisters borrowed £200 and used this to convert the top storey area over the convent community room by demolishing the roof and attic space of the old church and raising the walls to create a two-storey building thus adding a dormitory.

In October 1894 Mother John arrived from Ireland with three professed Brigidines: Mothers Vincent Crow, Patrick O'Flynn and Terese O'Flynn.

As well as two young students from Ireland who intended to enter the novitiate: Nora Cooke (Sister Claver) and Mary Anne Kenny (Sister Xavier).

In 1895 the boarding school, St Brigid's, opened with one boarder Grace Fox from Mt McDonald.

It grew so that by 1897 the school had 150 pupils, of which 16 were boarders.

The Brigidine community had expanded to eleven with the addition of novices Kate Coady (Sister Francis), and then Sisters Stanisilaus Nolan and Brigid Kelly were now professed.

The school continued to flourish and witnessed many successes through its pupils.

It was also building a reputation of teaching excellence.

The Brigidines had saved more than £5000 over two decades.

It was during this time that plans were drawn up for extensions and the new St Raphael's school built.

Finally the Brigidines saw their "dream" realised.

The Brigidine community was a great boon for the town.

Commercial classes for the business people of Cowra with Mother Brigid Kelly in charge were regular weekly fixtures.

In their early years in Cowra they may not have been able to venture far beyond the convent walls but the world came to them.

The Brigidine Convent Sisters continued to teach until December 18 1987.

We thank and acknowledge the Brigidine charism of "strength and gentleness" that still permeates our school community both past and present.

St Raphael's 150th Committee shall continue to share many fabulous stories through the course of the year and we acknowledge the research of the Brigidine archivist Sister Kathleen Butler and Janice Garaty in sourcing reliable information.