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Mother Patrick was there for refugees from the Nazis

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

It's a brave woman who, at the age of 20 years old, steps on a ship to travel to the other side of the world, knowing she is leaving behind her family in Ireland, probably never to see them again. This is what young Eileen Callanan did in 1900 when she arrived as a novitiate of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Loreto Sisters, in Ballarat, Victoria.

The Loreto Sisters were founded in 1609 by Englishwoman Mary Ward. The order arrived in Australia in 1878, lead by the charismatic Mother Gonzaga, in response to a request by the Bishop of Ballarat, Bishop O'Connell. The group from Ireland set up the convent in Ballarat and their first school, Loreto College. It was here Eileen trained as a nun and a teacher, gaining a position at the Central Catholic Training College, Albert Park, where she later became vice-principal.

In 1912 Eileen founded the Loreto Free Kindergarten and 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. She became foundation principal of St Mary's Hall, the Catholic residence for women at the university in 1918, and was known to all as Mother Patrick.

St Mary's College where Eileen Callanan, known as Mother Patrick, was principal. Source: Loreto archives

Eileen lived out her faith practically. 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. With her students, they were expected to participate in university debates on international and domestic issues. Eileen was convinced that women should have a broad education and she introduced them to the writers of the Gaelic renaissance, to art, music and fencing, and to a wide variety of visitors.

Above all, Eileen's faith was an integral part of her daily life. She was the epitome of dignity and considered somewhat of an unconventional nun who enjoyed a cup of tea with students in the Union canteen.

Headstone of the Loreto sisters with MM Patrick Callanan named in the middle bottom, at Boroondara cemetery. Photo: Peter Quick

Mother Patrick died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 21 July 1947 at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

More Tales:


* 'Sisters of Loreto', Wikipedia,, accessed online 18 February, 2020.

* 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 18 February 2020.

* 'Records relating to St Mary's Hall/College, Selected guide to Loreto Archives,, accessed 18 February, 2020

* '140 years of Loreto in Australia', Loreto Australia and South East Asia,, accessed 18 February, 2020

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