Woman Barry, Mary Gonzaga

Religious Sister

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Mary Barry was born 1834 in Wexford to banker John Barry and his wife Elizabeth. She was educated by the Loreto sisters in Ireland before entering the convent in 1855. In 1875 she left Ireland as superior of first Australian foundation. The sisters settled in Ballarat where the school they founded, St Mary's Mount Abbey, became a leader in girls' education, the first of many schools across Australia and the site of pioneering developments from kindergarten through to teacher training.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Mother Gonzaga Barry turned her attention to Melbourne where the bishops had approached her to establish a teachers' college to prepare both religious and lay staff for the registration introduced in 1905. The Central Catholic Training College, which opened in Albert Park in 1906, provided courses for intending teachers and for university students. Six years later Mother Gonzaga established a free kindergarten in South Melbourne, with the voluntary assistance of her past pupils.

Mother Gonzaga travelled widely both within and beyond Australia gathering and disseminating information as to the latest developments in education. She believed that women had much to learn from women rather than relying on 'the theories of education ... which we owe largely to men' (Loreto Normanhurst website). Barry also had a profound impact on her students urging them to 'leave after you something on which others can build'. Although graduates of her schools were amongst the first women to undertake tertiary education she insisted that 'the Home is woman's realm, and there the wise, lovable and well-educated woman reigns supreme' (Loreto Normanhurst website). However rather than be content with a 'butterfly existence' Loreto graduates were urged to make a contribution as wives and mothers to social and cultural life (Loreto website).

She died in Ballarat in 1915. In her obituary she was described as 'a woman of bright intellect ... [with] exceptional talent for the transaction of business affairs' (Ballarat Courier, 6 March 1915).

Published Resources


  • Clark, Mary Ryllis, Loreto in Australia, University of New South Wales Publishing, Sydney, New South Wales, 2009. Details
  • Oliver, Mary, Love is a light burden, Burns Oates, London, England, 1950. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources

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