In the Centenary of Sisters of Mercy Branxton-Greta Parish Booklet (1986), Bishop Leo Clarke wrote in his foreword: “When the Sisters arrived in Branxton 100 years ago they would have had no idea about the many changes that the ensuing 100 years would bring. They were women of faith who committed their lives to the providence of God and the testimony of their lives is that whatever happened to them they were always sure that God would bring their work to a successful conclusion. If those original sisters were able to return with a message I am sure that they would encourage us all to be of good faith and to be confident that all our efforts will be fulfilled by God.”
The then Parish Priest, Rev. P. Purcell, writes: “This centenary celebrates much more than the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy to this Parish, July, 1886. It was also Branxton’s triumphal answer to the Iniquitous Act of Parliament whereby Education was secularised.”
In 1831 Catherine McAuley was professed and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy was founded on 12 December. Within ten years, twelve convents were established in Ireland, along with another two in England. The woman who had known both wealth and poverty, had encouraged so many others to dedicate their lives to helping the sick and poor as she herself did, before she died in 1841. Mother M. Vincent McMahon led a foundation group to Ennis in County Clare in 1854. It was this congregation that Dr James Murray, who was so concerned about education for the children of his Parochial districts, invited some of the sisters to come to Australia to assist in Parish work.
In 1875, on 29 June, ten sisters who volunteered to fulfil his wish set out via the Suez Canal. They were met in Sydney by the Bishop, who accompanied them on the paddle steamer “Coonabara” to Newcastle and then onto Maitland where they spent a few days with the Dominican Sisters. On 31 August, 1875, the Mercy Sisters were welcomed by the Singleton people. Their first home was a building, which had been erected in 1845, and donated to the Church by Mr John Brown.
The Superior chosen to lead the pioneer group of young sisters to Singleton was Mother Mary Stanislaus Kenny. The names of her helpers ere Sister Mary Bernard Gavin, Sr Mary Berchmann Goggin, Sr Mary Xavier Ryan, Sr Mary Ignatius O,Brien, Sr Mary Francis Fleming, Sr Mary Gertrude Forde, along with three postulants Sr Elizabeth, Sr Maggie and Sr Bidelia. These brave young women had left their homes in Ireland to come to an almost new country to sacrifice their previous belongings for the welfare of others.
It was on 4 July, 1886, that Branxton Parishioners welcomed the Sisters in a gracious manner. A horse bus belonging to a Mr Snelson conveyed the group from Singleton. Mother Stanislaus Kenny accompanied the five nuns to their new home, where Sr Mary Kostka Kirby was to be the superior. From the Freeman’s Journal of July, 1886: “The good nuns will take charge of the two Catholic Schools of Branxton and Greta. On Monday morning his Lordship opened the school at Branxton, where nearly fifty children attended. We all unite in congratulating the good nuns on what we might call their triumphant
entry and successful opening of the new Catholic Schools of Branxton and Greta.” Classes at Branxton were held in the Church.
In 1888 papers had mentioned improvements to the school; in 1915, the Almanac stated:”The new school at Branxton will be a decided improvement to the town.” Two additions were made to the original brick church of 1866 to accomodate education. After the renovations of 1916 the church section was used for infant classes and the new parts housed the primary classes.
St Brigid’s School, Branxton was the next task to be tackled in the 1960’s. The deteriorating school had been used for Masses while the Church was being renewed, but the flooring was becoming unsafe, so Branxton pupils travelled to school to Greta with their class nuns each day, until the new school was built. Mr H. Wade of Lochinvar was the builder; the plan had been drawn up by Mr I. Pender of Maitland. From the Maitland Mercury of 22 May, 1967: “Bishop of Maitland, Most Rev. J. J. Toohey opened the new Roman Catholic Primary School at Branxton yesterday. Bishop Toohey also blessed the $36000 school of St Brigid’s and donated $200 towards its cost. The official party included the Rev. P. J. Flanagan, Father McCosker, Mayor and Mayoress of greater Cessnock, Ald and Mrs R. Brown, Ald and Mrs E. J. Trunk and Mr Leon Punch, M. L. A.”
In 1967 Branxton became the Primary School for all Primary children and Greta became the Infants school. The Parish Schools have remained that way since that year. Both schools have since closed and the New K-6 Parish School is now operating, under the name of Rosary Park Catholic School.