Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ellen (Eileen) Callanan (1880–1947)

by Rosemary Williams

This article was published:

Ellen (Eileen) Callanan (1880-1947), religious Sister and educator, was born on 10 February 1880 at Ardfield, County Cork, Ireland, eldest of ten children of Thomas Callanan, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Lawton. Known as Eileen, she was educated at Ardfield Primary School, and in Dublin at Loreto College and University College.

She came to Australia in 1900 to enter the novitiate of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Ballarat, Victoria, and was professed on 22 December 1903. While taking novitiate and post-novitiate courses in teacher-training, Callanan taught matriculation (under supervision) in 1903 and 1905, before enrolling at the University of Melbourne (Dip.Ed., 1908). She completed a B.A. in 1915. Meantime, she had joined the staff of the Central Catholic Training College, Albert Park, where she was later vice-principal. A founder (1912) of the Loreto Free Kindergarten, she co-authored a children's page for the Advocate, commenced a school paper, Children's World, and planned a series of history readers, one of which was published before her death.

As foundation principal (1918-43) of St Mary's Hall (the Catholic residence for women at the university), Mother Patrick, as she had become, maintained a passion for her homeland. She kept up a lively correspondence with Hilaire Belloc and attended lunchtime debates at the university, during which she did not hesitate to stand and interject. When the United States Army established Camp Pell opposite St Mary's in 1942, Mother Patrick opened the hall to the 4th General Hospital's personnel. She also assisted refugees from Nazism. Under her leadership, students participated in university debates on international and domestic issues, thereby lessening the relative isolation of their hall which was situated in The Avenue, one mile (1.6 km) off campus. Convinced that women should have a broad education, she introduced her students to the writers of the Gaelic renaissance, to art, music and fencing, and to a wide variety of visitors, among them Walter Burley and Marion Griffin, and Vance and Nettie Palmer whom she invited to speak on the Spanish Civil War.

Mother Patrick ensured that religion was integral to daily life. She directed students to contemporary Catholic writers and, on certain evenings, read with feeling from the Gospel of St John which she loved. Her Catholicism was unhampered by subservience. Even when Archbishop Mannix—whom she deeply admired—arrived unexpectedly, she would sometimes, on seeing his car pull up outside the hall, excuse herself. Deeply offended by anti-Catholic sentiment, she had been careful to exclude Professor William Osborne, who had erred in this regard, from her garden party to honour Cardinal Cerretti in 1928.

Tall, elegant and dignified, with an almost imperceptible limp, Mother Patrick was an unconventional nun who enjoyed a cup of tea with students in the Union canteen. She possessed an independence of mind and of heart which enabled her to engage in political, social and religious life in ways which were then unusual for a Sister in a semi-enclosed Order. Mother Patrick died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 21 July 1947 at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Oliver, All for All (Syd, 1945)
  • Loreto Magazine, 1947
  • University of Melbourne, St Mary's College, 12, 1978
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1916
  • R. Williams, Our Privilege is Now. A History of St Mary's Hall, University of Melbourne, 1918-1968 (M.Ed. thesis, Monash University, 1987)
  • Loreto Archives, Ballarat, Victoria, and Rathfarnham, Ireland
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosemary Williams, 'Callanan, Ellen (Eileen) (1880–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Patrick, Mother

10 February, 1880
Ardfield, Cork, Ireland


21 July, 1947 (aged 67)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.