Families moving to Goulburn have swelled enrolments at the city’s two Catholic primary schools. Second and third-generation families who attended the schools are sending their children there as well.
The healthy enrolments are in contrast to the latest Australian Census which reveals that while Christianity remains the nation’s most common religion, the number of followers continues to decline.
Both schools accept people of all faiths and of no faith.
Saints Peter and Paul’s Parish Primary School principal Kathy Neely said they had grown to two extra classes in 2021 and 2022. There are 280 children enrolled and the number is expected to rise again in 2023.
Ms Neely said Goulburn’s proximity to Canberra and Sydney was attracting new arrivals. “They love the country feel of our school, they sense it’s a community. They also like that students mostly go on to Trinity College,” she said.
Ms Neely said the school had a big block of land with plenty of room to grow.
St Joseph’s Primary School principal Matthew Mullins expects 10 new enrolments for next year which takes the overall number from 320 to 330. He would like to expand but needs more playground area. Mr Mullins said the population growth in North Goulburn had taken off, with housing being much more affordable than in the ACT and Sydney.
He said the main driver for enrolment growth was the positive reputation of the three Catholic schools in Goulburn (a city that last month marked the 60th anniversary of its famous strike which led to government assistance for non-government schools).
Julie and Garry Downey enrolled their three daughters Melissa, Lauren and Catherine at St Joseph’s in the 1980s because of the Christian discipline, and wanted them to go on to Marian College (which later merged with St Patrick’s College to become Trinity College).
Julie said having mass each Friday involving the children was a drawcard. Another highlight was having “the beautiful” Sister Colleen Clear at mass until she retired. “The kids just loved her,” Julie said. “It was always nice, the kids were involved.
“Sister Colleen retired and was living in Canberra and working at a nursing home there but she always came back to Goulburn of a Thursday,” Julie said. “It would take her half an hour to get through the school if she came at lunchtime, which she normally did so she could talk to the kids, and get to the office and pick up her newsletter,” she said.
Julie worked on staff in 1999. “There were 171 students and 90 families when I started. The day I left there were 226 families and 332 students,” she said.
She said families who lived out towards Mary’s Mount and all those new areas went to St Joseph’s. Members of the NSW Police dominated the parent body, followed by nurses and Correctional Services staff.
In many instances young fathers and mothers were police officers working at the NSW Police Academy. Julie said that when they arrived in Goulburn the first thing they’d ask was ‘what’s a good school?’.
“It was sad when the classes were so full we had to turn people away. The last couple of years before I left, we only had one other year in the 22 years I was there that we had to say to people ‘I’m sorry we cannot take you’. The year I left (2020) after term one and we already had the numbers for the next year.”
Julie remembered the close-knit staff enjoyed their light-hearted moments. When one teacher unknowingly wore odd shoes to school one day, all her colleagues turned up the following day in odd shoes. Even Sister Colleen wore a sneaker and one of her sensible, comfy shoes.
Julie and Garry’s daughter Lauren and son-in-law Andrew Whalan have enrolled their son Rupert and daughter Tully at St Joseph’s.
Lauren said that even though parents of primary school-aged children were not inclined to have that religious emphasis in their lives, the morals and values at school, and saying prayers of thanks were important and appreciated, even for the non-religious members of the school community.
Lauren said the teaching staff remained consistent during her time as a pupil when there was a mix of young teachers and stalwarts Wendy Wise, Ruth Read and Ann Whitfield.
“The values have held strongly for a long time, it’s a lovely little community to be a part of, I guess,” she said.
Lauren said that by encouraging the children to treat one another with respect and kindness, the school paved the way for good, strong relationships and long-term friendships. “Being with my friends was the absolute highlight,” she said.