A Tribute to ACU (Signadou Campus)

This article was written by Patricia Moroney: The Dominican Sisters, an Order that dates back to the 13th Century in Spain, had their own teachers' training, first in Maitland and later in Wahroonga, Sydney. They trained only their sisters to teach in their own Catholic schools. They had Primary, Secondary and Boarding schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Other groups of Dominicans had their own separate training in Adelaide and Perth. In 1958 all the different gropus around Australia amalgamated into one Federation and subsequently it became necessary to set up a headquarters. Canberra was the place chosen and it was in 1963 under the very capable leadership of Sister Margaret Mary Brown, who succeeded Mother Henrietta White, that the first central Dominican Teachers' Training College known as "Signadou" was opened at Watson in Canberra.

The name "Signadou" means Sign of God. Dominic De Guzman the Spanish Canon Regular, who founded the Dominican Order, had in his lifetime, see a vision of a bright light shining over the place in Spain where he set up a monastery of teaching. Not only did he gather together men but also women for the education of children and adults against the Albigensian heresy, that was spreading throughout Europe. This heresy taught that the body was bad and only the soul mattered. Dominic wanted to counteract this very erroneous doctrine. The Dominican Order has been devoted to teaching truth since it was founded. Its motto is "Truth" and the monks and sisters also carried the motto, "Contemplare-et Contemplata Aliis Tradere" i.e. to contemplate and give to others the fruits of contemplation. Thus the name "Signadou" was well chosen for the new Teacher Education Centre.

Mother Henrietta White had worked long and hard in her role as the person in charge of the training of Sisters and had arranged with the Department of Education in Victoria, for Sisters to be examined under their system and to be awarded their teaching qualifications. This practice continued for a time after the establishment of "Signadou", until it was decided that this insitution should issue its own qualifications.

The training at "Signadou" was no longer only for Sisters but was open to any other young women who wished to teach in Catholic schools. The number of trainees increased to approximately forty. Later, in 1973, the College opened its training to young men and so began the work of training both men and women for Catholic schools around Australia but particularly for Canberra. The student population grew year by year which necessitated more space, so the adjoining building, owned by the Dominican Fathers, became part of the "Signadou" campus.

During the seventies, Sister Margaret Mary Brown, Sister Deirdre O'Sullivan and Sister Patricia Moroney, worked very hard, along with several assistants, to build up the College with a view to applying for public government accreditation as a College of Advanced Education. The College soon provided education in Religion, Theology, Sacred Scripture, Spirituality and Liturgy as well as education in teaching for Primary School children. The Dominican Fathers were also involved in the Religious education program. The library was extended, equipment and resources built up and after a long examination process by three officials from the Australian government, "Signadou" was awarded status as a College of Advanced Education in 1978.

At this point, Sister Deirdre O'Sullivan took over as Principal of the College and Sister Margaret Mary Brown, after long years of untiring dedication and outstanding success, retired to Tasmania. Soon the College grew and increased its numbers, so that it became necessary and viable to develop to University status. Sister Pauline Riley succeeded Sister Deidre O'Sullivan when her term was complete and later under the leadership of Sister Rosemary Lewins, "Signadou" was raised to the status of a University in 1991 and became affiliated with the already established Catholic universities in Sydney and Melbourne.

The beautiful buildings which now form the "Signadou" campus of the Australian Catholic University, were designed by the Dominican Father, an Irishman, Father Bonaventure Leahy op and Mr Kevin Curtin, both eminent architects. The design was developed on the idea of creating unity in community living, thus both buildings are octagons, built around a central courtyard. "Blackfriars" is built in the shape of a dove and the very impressive mosaics, featured in the building, are the work of Father Maurice Keating op. The Sisters' Convent and College has a "feminine"style about it and the Fathers' Monastery next door has a "masculine"style. In the early days, taxi drivers use to refer to the buildings as "His" and "Hers". Do you want to go to His or Hers?" they would ask. Today they still stand as a united symbol.

Grateful acknowledgement to:

Dr Patricia Moroney PhD(Psych),A.N.Z.S.J.A.,A.G.A.P.,I.A.A.P.,Dip.Depth and Analytical Psychology(C.G.Jung Institute Zurich, Switzerland), for preparing the text and supplying the photographs for this special feature.

About the Author: Dr Moroney is an accomplished and diverse educator. She began her career as a teacher, trianing as a Kindergarten teacher "while on the job." After completing more formal teacher training and with fifteen years in the classroom, she took up the position of Lecturer at the Signadou College of Advanced Education in 1973. In 1976, she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study post-graduate Music in Salzburg, Austria and to visit music schools and galleries in several European cities, to study the integration of the arts. She is also a qualified musician and in 1981 opened her own music studio in Canberra, where she taught for seven years, before travelling to Zurich, to study the Depth Psychology of Carl Gustav Jung for five years. Since 1992 she has worked as a Psychotherapist, in her private practice in Canberra helping both adults and children.