The first Marist Brothers’ school in Australia was established at the Rocks in 1871. An opening in Queensland did not occur until 1929, when the Brothers began to operate a parish school at Rosalie in Brisbane. As the College at Rosalie developed and began to take in a small number of country boarders, the search was on for a suitably sized property that would accommodate a College with boarding facilities. A Church owned site at Ashgrove was offered to the Brothers for purchase in July 1939, and with rushed preparations, Marist Ashgrove, then named as Marist Brothers’ College St Mary’s Ashgrove was ready to open as a school. The first assembly for newly enrolled boys took place on the 30th January, 1940, and so begins the story of a Community of Brothers and a College.
The College Prospectus records that the aim of the Brothers “is to impart thoroughly sound religious and moral training . . . (and) at the same time equip the students intellectually and spiritually to take their positions in life, according to their chosen careers.”
The first community comprising four Brothers’ was ably led and inspired by Br Ignatius O’Connor, who spoke of this new establishment as “a city college in a rural setting” which he named in honour of Mary the Mother of God, and tagged with the motto: ‘Posuerunt Me Custodem’ – ‘They have appointed me Guardian’, more a reminder to educators than to students. The now familiar College tag, ‘Viriliter Age' drawn from Psalm 30, was adopted as the motto on the suggestion of Br Hilary (Provincial) and displayed for the first time on the badge affixed high above the entrance of the new classroom block opened early in 1958 in Br Ferrer’s last year as Headmaster.
The founding spirit of Marist Ashgrove reflected closely the style, character and spirituality of St Marcellin Champagnat, the founder of the Little Brothers of Mary in France where he set about establishing an institute of teaching Brothers in 1817. To quote Fr Craig Larkin sm writing on the early Marists: Marcellin Champagnat – “from the beginning to end, Marcellin was a practical person, and everything about him reflects this: the way he understood the ideas exchanged at the seminary, the way he responded to needs, the way he formed his Brothers.” Central in Marcellin’s vision was a passionate desire to mission, to bring hope and the message of Jesus’ love to young lives: “To make Jesus known and loved”.
A similar dynamic spirit stirred the heart and soul of Br Ignatius as he dug soil for the pool, transformed existing buildings into classrooms and boarding dormitories, established a tradition for good teaching, and took care for the Brothers and lay staff who shared his dream. With Brothers, boys and parents working alongside especially over the weekends, the story of Marist and the Brothers’ Community began to unfold. From the start, Marist Ashgrove offered a broad, comprehensive academic curriculum with an emphasis on preparation for public exams to be taught and studied in conjunction with religious formation and participation in sports and the arts. Some of these terms may have changed over the years, but essentially this concept of holistic schooling aligned in solidarity with the integration of faith and culture is equally true for Marist today.
In 1965, twenty five years along, the Brothers’ Community had increased to 19 Brothers supported by 5 lay teachers with another 3 part-time teachers for the optional studies. Student enrolment totalled 770, including 195 boarders. In the Annual Report, the Director, Br Phelan noted the increased numbers of students moving on to senior years (Post Junior) and challenged these boys to set higher academic goals. Twelve subjects were offered in the senior years with boys taking six authority subjects and Religion. At Year 10 level, boys studied eight authority subjects as well as Religion.
Moving ahead to 1990, the year of Golden Jubilee: the Brothers’ community numbers remained much the same with a total of 18 Brothers of whom 7 were listed as retired to the Br Andrew Villa. Eleven Brothers were involved full-time in the College, 7 in the secondary area, 2 in the Junior School and 2 attached to the administration office. Across the College the teaching staff numbered 78. Boarding now reached a total of 335.
Br Chris Wade as Headmaster, in his final report for 1990, summed up his 8 years at Marist Ashgrove: “I worked to secure the future (of the College) and to preserve the traditions –strive for excellence in all that we do . . . aim to be the best and most authentic Catholic College . . . while preserving the common touch”.
At the heart of the FMS Community’s vision for the College was an underlying characteristic of Marist education - of critical importance is the religious and physical environment that supports the facilities, the teaching and learning, and the conduct of sports. The Brothers collectively and with support from parents and staff, strove to tame and beautify the physical landscape while planning for buildings to meet educative needs of an increasing enrolment. A synoptic walk around the campus will draw your attention to prominent religious statues honouring the Crucified Jesus, Our Blessed Mother, St Joseph, St Marcellin Champagnat, statues associated with the Tower, and in the central precinct, the College Chapel that features a fine worship environment for sacrament, praise and prayer.
Looking back, the high standing of the College today in terms of Catholic faith formation, academics, the arts, sports and pastoral wellbeing, had their origins in the Marist Community through the inspiration and personal contributions of numerous Brothers, who by example, and talent gifted our lay colleagues with the desire and confidence to take all these facets of a good school to levels of high excellence.
As Marist Ashgrove moves ahead towards the Jubilee year in 2015, the ongoing aspiration of the Marist Community for all those who strive in the name of the College: students and teachers, parents, the old boys, the ancillary and services staff, is for them to find inexhaustible insight and hope in the distinctive values and culture that define a Marist ministry. In short, authentic Marist education is characterised by: presence, simplicity, family spirit, and a love of work, all moulded in the way of Mary.
For information about Marist Vocations please visit their website at www.maristvocations.com