Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Gonzaga Barry (1834–1915)

by Catherine M. McTigue and Imelda Palmer

This article was published:

Mary Gonzaga Barry (1834-1915), mother superior, was born on 24 July 1834 in Wexford, Ireland, daughter of John Barry, banker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Cowan. After education at the Loreto Abbeys in Gorey in 1848-51 and Rathfarnham in 1851-53, she entered the institute at Gorey on 24 August 1853, was Superior there in 1867-72 and then at Enniscorthy in 1872-75. In response to an appeal by Bishop James Moore of Ballarat for Loreto Sisters for the Australian mission, Mother Gonzaga went on foundation to Ballarat in 1875, accompanied by six nuns. The Loreto Sisters had already won wide renown as a teaching order; from its inauguration it had attracted to its ranks educated women who provided a superior education for girls in their various abbeys. There was need for such a school in Ballarat, as Mother Gonzaga quickly perceived. But she was concerned also for the welfare of the Catholic community as a whole. Under her guidance confraternities were established for adult Catholics, and Sisters from the Mary's Mount Abbey were provided to supervise teaching in the parochial schools, which relied heavily on pupil-teachers at that time.

Recognizing the importance of teacher training, Mother Gonzaga established the Catholic Training College for teachers at Dawson Street, Ballarat, in 1884. In 1896 the college received new impetus under the direction of Miss Barbara Bell, a distinguished graduate of the Secondary Teachers' Training College, Cambridge, whom Mother Gonzaga brought from England especially for that work. Later Miss Bell became mistress of method at the Central Catholic Training College established by the institute at Albert Park at the request of the Catholic bishops of Victoria soon after the government regulation of 1905 requiring the registration of all teachers.

The opening of the Albert Park College on 1 May 1906 marked a new venture in Catholic education in Victoria: there for the first time was a central training college open to lay students and religious, and providing courses both for intending teachers and for students pursuing university work. Ideally, Mother Gonzaga believed, the latter group should be housed in a separate college and to this end she worked and planned. But her dream of a permanent hall of residence for Catholic women attending the University of Melbourne was realized only after her death, with the establishment of St Mary's Hall under the care of the Loreto Sisters.

In kindergarten work in Australia Mother Gonzaga may rightly be called a pioneer. Having observed such work in Europe, she introduced it first at Mary's Mount, Ballarat, some time before 1900. In 1912 she established a free kindergarten in South Melbourne, voluntary help being provided by members of the Loreto Past Pupils' Association, an organization which she had sponsored in 1898.

Much of Mother Gonzaga's life's work is reflected in her letters, both public and private. They reveal on the one hand a religious remarkable for her simple, childlike piety, and on the other an educationist indefatigable in the pursuit of an intelligent and ambitious programme of expansion and academic development within the Loreto order. She travelled widely in Australia and abroad, always keeping her Sisters informed about new methods in teaching and administration. Her concern embraced the whole order, not merely one separate province. Until her death at Loreto Abbey, Ballarat, on 5 March 1915 she worked unceasingly for the reunification of the institute, that all might share in the benefits accruing from central administration, and that the institute might fulfil its original function.

Select Bibliography

  • Loreto Eucalyptus Blossoms (Ballarat), 1886-1903, Dec 1913
  • Loreto Free Kindergarten, Silver Jubilee Report and Balance Sheet (Melb, 1937)
  • M. M. Ursula, Beginnings of the I.B.V.M. in Australia (manuscript, Loreto Abbey, Ballarat)
  • Loreto Past Students' Free Kindergarten, Minutes and Annual Reports, 1911-14 (Loreto Abbey, Ballarat)
  • Mother Gonzaga, notes and letters (Loreto Abbey, Ballarat).

Citation details

Catherine M. McTigue and Imelda Palmer, 'Barry, Mary Gonzaga (1834–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 July, 1834
Wexford, Ireland


5 March, 1915 (aged 80)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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