Dominican Priory, Dongara, Western Australia
Eight hundred years separates the foundation of the original Dominican Convent, Our Lady of Prouille, in the south of France and the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Western Australia as we know it today.
From that first ancient convent founded by Domingo de Guzman (later St Dominic) in 1206 has grown a religious Order with many thousands of members, both male and female, across the world. Down the eight centuries the Church has canonized many of these members, notably St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine of Siena, St Rose of Lima. More recently St Catherine of Siena has been named Doctor of the Church and Patron Saint of Europe.
Domingo de Guzman, the son of Felix Guzman and his wife Jane of Aza (later Blessed Jane of Aza), was born in 1170 in Caleruega in north-eastern Spain. Dominic developed into a young man of great integrity with a caring and charitable nature and, after completing his studies for the priesthood, committed himself to a life of prayer and contemplation of God’s Word in the Scriptures and to preaching the Truth of the Gospel. Dominic had a talent for adapting himself to circumstances and people and especially to the needs of his contemporaries and many young men were drawn to his way of life.
In 1206, a group of noblewomen who had embraced the ascetic lifestyle of an heretical group, the Albigensians, was converted to Christianity by Dominic who founded a convent of Sisters within Albigensian territory at Prouille in Southern France. Their mission was to study God’s Word in the Scriptures and following Dominic’s lead, spread the Truth through teaching, to all who came to them and their strength lay in their ability to communicate their knowledge and faith with great personal conviction. They supported Dominic and the other friars in the work of preaching Truth thereby establishing the female/male aspect of the Dominican Order and Veritas - Truth - became an accepted motto of the Order.
From this original group of women, foundations spread throughout Europe including England and Ireland. The first known foundation of Dominican nuns in Ireland was established in Galway in 1644.
Two other foundations were eventually formed in Ireland, in Drogheda and at Sion Hill in Dublin. It was from Sion Hill that Mother Mary Gabriel GILL led a mission to Dunedin in New Zealand in 1870 and 29 years later to the Goldfields of Western Australia after Bishop William KELLY, newly appointed Bishop of Geraldton, invited the Dominican Sisters from Dunedin to form a foundation in the recently formed Geraldton Diocese.
On 5th January 1899, Bishop KELLY provided a detailed description of their new mission and added:
“I can put before you no inducement to come here, but for the love of God. If you can work for God’s sake and endure hard things and wait for better times, come along. Should you think the prospects too uninviting, I will not blame you”.
The Sisters were not discouraged by the Bishop’s remarks: in March of the same year, Mother Gabriel together with Sisters di Ricci KIRBY, Gonzales WALL, Dominica MURPHY, Di Pazzi Miscall, Bonaventure McENTIRE and a postulant Kate MURPHY, were named as the Western Australian founding members who arrived in Greenough, a tiny hamlet a few miles south of Geraldton on 7th June 1899 to form the first foundation of Dominican Sisters in Western Australia.
It was in July 1901 that the Sisters opened a convent at Dongara and established it as the head house and novitiate in the hope that they would be able to develop there a significant school and college that would offer a wider range of academic and cultural subjects than had previously been possible.
For the next 70 years the Dominican Priory with its boarding and day school for girls became well-known for the high standard of education it provided, first on a small scale, but, after 1928, for its well-equipped and attractive building, the Dominican Ladies College, set in lovely surroundings and for the quality teaching of the Sisters who served Catholic and non-Catholic families of the inland farming and goldmining areas of the Geraldton Diocese and beyond.
As early as 1917, the Sisters experienced the traumas and difficulties associated with living close to a river that periodically burst its banks.
Although there were other floods from time to time, it was the more damaging one caused by Cyclone Mavis in 1971 that was the catalyst that finally saw the closure of the Dominican Priory at Dongara and the termination of the Dominican Ladies’ College at the end of that year, after serving the area for 70 years.
By that time, a number of the convents and schools founded in the goldmining towns of Yalgoo, Meekatharra, Leonora, Gwalia, Cue, Day Dawn and Reedy were suffering from the decline in the mining activities of their districts and accompanying loss of population. This was gradually reflected in the number of students enrolled. There was no choice for the Sisters in these circumstances but to close the schools and withdraw.
Source: The Dominican Sisters of Western Australia.
“To contemplate and give to others the fruits of our contemplation