Specialist school St Paul’s College, Kew, marks its 60th anniversary this weekend. It is a milestone close to the hearts of Peter Walsh and Bill Jolley, who both were there when St Paul’s first opened its doors in 1957.
When they talk about the school, the pair speak of wonderful teachers and the goodwill and generous community support that let the College become a reality, and its founding principal, Brother Patrick O’Neill.
When Brother O’Neill lost his sight in his forties, he found a calling to help others with vision impairment. He first provided religious education to Catholic children at the Royal Institute for the Blind before establishing St Paul’s at the request of the then Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix.
Peter, who was eight when he started at St Paul’s, recalls Brother O’Neill’s exhortation to students on its very first day. ‘He told us that we as blind people, we will be able to achieve what we want to, we should aim for the best in life and do the best we can,’ Peter says.
It was amazing what those teachers and Brother O’Neill did. They always aimed for the highest and the best. How lucky we were.’
Bill says community support let the school thrive. ‘There were no government grants. It was all the community and we owe so much to that philosophy of the community and self-help,’ he says.
‘It’s why, I think, a number of us have been active in our global community. That help that we received is something that we pass on to people that are less fortunate than us.’
Both Bill and Peter went on to study at university. Bill became the first blind person to gain an honours degree in mathematics. He was a pioneer of computerised braille production in Australia and led the campaign for the installation of audible traffic lights.
Peter studied social work and went on to a career where he was involved in the resettlement of migrants and refugees.
Over the years St Paul’s mission has expanded and it now teaches children with other disabilities.
The College continues to be an innovator with its dual-school and bridging program, giving students experience in mainstream school settings for part of the week and attending St Paul’s on other days, when they can benefit from its smaller class sizes and teachers with specialist skills.