St Catherine's Orphanage began in the former Lineham (Brooklyn) Hotel, which was inherited by a member of the Sisters of Mercy's North Sydney Congregation and converted to a Convent of Mercy in 1907. St Carthage's College for Young Ladies, a boarding school licensed for 40 children, had begun in the same building. The Sisters of Mercy also conducted services and entertainments and activities in a hall building near the hotel. The arrival of the Sisters of Mercy rather changed the character of Brooklyn, a small fishing village that was an important stopping point for road and rail traffic.
By 1931 the unemployment and poverty of the Depression had led to a large increase in the number of children taken into Catholic babies' homes and children's homes. The Sisters of Mercy decided to focus on providing residential care for children, and renamed St Carthage's as St Catherine's. The name change also honoured the centenary of the foundation of the Sisters of Mercy and the order's founder Catherine McAuley.
In 1956 a new building that provided more privacy, comfort and better facilities was opened for the children. An old run-down cottage on land adjacent, which had been purchased by the Congregation, was renovated in 1959 to provide two classrooms for primary students who had previously had to cross an increasingly busy road to get to school. The old wooden hotel remained in use as the Convent until 1968 when it was demolished to make way for a new Convent, a Chapel (built large enough to serve as a Parish Church) and a laundry. St Catherine's now dominated the landscape at Brooklyn.
However, child care methods changed in the 1970s, to favour small family group homes. St Catherine's responded, greatly reducing the number of children in the home after 1972. The school, which had functioned for over sixty years, was closed to comply with changes in education, and children were sent to various local schools. St Catherine's' also began to place children in T.AF.E., Business College or University courses before they left care. The Home building was converted to three self-contained units for family groups and the children were cared for by Direct Care workers. The school building was redesigned to provide accommodation for four older girls and prepare them for independent living. These changes were supported by government funding.
The school building (an old cottage) on the premises was also redesigned to provide accommodation for four residents. This enabled the girls to be better equipped, so as to function independently before leaving St Catherine's.
In the 1980s the old fenced swimming pool in the river was replaced by an in-built pool which was made possible by the fees paid by a TV company who used the site to film 'The Rovers'. Government funding and fund-raising enabled the building of a half-court. At this time, according to the Sisters of Mercy, St Catherine's was considered to be a 'model' Home and was often visited by Teams from non-government and government departments who were developing new institutions.
The Sisters of Mercy report that government funding introduced many progressive changes to St Catherine's, but at the same time, imposed obligations that were not funded, such as an increase in paid staff. The workload of staff and Sisters increased dramatically, owing to meetings and reporting requirements. In May 1990 the Trustees of the Sisters of Mercy invited a committee to evaluate the future options for St Catherine's and it was decided to close the home in August of that year. The remaining 10 young people were placed in alternative care. Sister Joanne Kirk, Congregational Leader at the time, acknowledged the efforts of staff to provide a warm, caring environment.
Former residents of St Catherine's Orphanage made submissions to the 2004 Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee Inquiry into Institutional Care, alleging that they were beaten with canes by the nuns.
29 August 2022
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00181
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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