St. Mary’s Cathedral College is founded in the Christian Brothers’ tradition and administered by Sydney Catholic Schools, Eastern Region.


A Catholic school has been a constant presence on the College’s current site, immediately east of St Mary’s Cathedral, since 1824. While the presence has been continuous, the leadership has been varied, including almost all of Australia’s distinguished pedagogical religious orders at one time or another. The school was staffed by Benedictine monks from 1824–1882; by Marist Brothers from 1883–1910, assisted by Sisters of Charity (1883–1967); and by the Christian Brothers for over a century, beginning in 1911. While the close relationship with the Christian Brothers and the charism of Blessed Edmund Rice remains an essential element of the College’s mission and ethos, since 2016 the College has been led by Mr Michael Kelleher, the first lay Principal, and staffed exclusively by lay teachers.

Fr John Therry established the initial school on the site as an elementary school and in its early decades it accommodated both boys and girls. In the middle decades of the 19th century, a number of lay teachers paid from Government funding worked alongside the Benedictine Monks, until 1882 when Government funding was withdrawn. Archbishop Vaughan asked for Religious Orders to run the school, and the Sisters of Charity worked alongside the Marist Brothers in operating a girls and boys elementary schools respectively. In 1887 the initial secondary schools were opened alongside the primary schools. It was under the stewardship of the Christian Brothers that the College developed the spirit that is still apparent today.

Christian Brothers

In 1910 Cardinal Moran (for whom the most successful of the College’s sporting houses is named) requested of Br Barron, the Christian Brothers’ Provincial, that a group of Christian Brothers begin work at what was then St Mary’s Parochial Primary School. In the first decade of their leadership the Brothers expanded the size of the buildings (encompassing four floors from 1914, the bottom of which served as a school for primary school boys, the intermediate two levels educating girls under the care of the Sisters of Charity, and the uppermost level the Brothers’ living quarters) and then the scope of the education, taking boys to the Intermediate Certificate (current Year 10 equivalent). This remained the basis of the school, which became the Christian Brothers High School, St Mary’s Cathedral, until the Leaving Certificate was firmly established by the reforming Labor government of 1945. The Wyndham Report, which from 1961 added an extra year of tuition and a more robust examination regimen (the HSC), expanded the educational remit of the school still further.

The changing nature of education and the altered demography of the Sydney CBD in these decades had an important effect in shaping the school’s population. As the residential population of the CBD declined, enrolments needed to be drawn from a wider geographical area. Br Gygar (Principal, 1938–1942) sought and gained registration as the ‘Cathedral Choir School’, which allowed students to travel free on public transport from outside the city’s centre. This not only solved the problem of declining enrolments but also helped develop the musical character of the education offered at the school, an importance that has persisted till today and which is best expressed in the annual Cathedral Concerts held in the Sydney Town Hall. And while the school ceased to admit junior Primary students from the mid-1970s, the College’s connection to the Cathedral Choir continued as a composite Year 5–6 class was maintained. This has since been expanded to include a composite Year 3–4 class.


The growing population of the school and the challenges of meeting the needs of a diverse curriculum meant that by the 1980s the school’s 1912 building was no longer fit for purpose. Br Hoffman (Principal, 1985–2000), supported by then-Archbishop Clancy, made the decision to demolish the existing building, build a new school on the existing site, and continue the education of the boys at Waverton while this complex task was accomplished. In 1987 St Mary’s Cathedral School, Waverton, began operations in the refurbished naval storage sheds. In 1992 students and staff returned to the location in the shadow of the Cathedral, now graced with a stylish structure built around an open quadrangle and including state-of-the-art science labs, a technics block, and a library named for Cardinal Freeman, an old boy of the school. The new school also had a new name: St Mary’s Cathedral College.

St Mary’s Cathedral College Today

While many of the classrooms have been modernised further in the thirty years since, and while the haircuts of students preserved on Year 12 photos have altered to meet prevailing fashions, the mission of the College has remained the same. Students are educated in an environment where they are encouraged to develop spiritually, emotionally, and academically. Positive pastoral relationships between staff and students and between students across year groups make the College a place where boys feel safe, nurtured, and valued. The College, while now a part of Sydney Catholic Schools, maintains close relationships with Christian Brothers’ schools through sporting ties and an affiliation with Edmund Rice Education Australia. The proximity to the Cathedral is more than geographical: students continue to serve as choristers and scholars, and many students are involved in altar serving and in other aspects of the liturgy. The Catholic mission of caring for those less fortunate is exemplified in the close relationship the College enjoys with the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Woolloomooloo, where senior students volunteer three times per week in staffing the hostel’s dining room and cafeteria.

In the years since 1992 the College has become one of the most academically successful non-selective boys’ schools in NSW. The College has often been placed in the top 100 schools in the state on the HSC Merit list and many students have been among the top-placed students in the state in individual exams. As important as these attainments are, even more crucial is the manner in which the College helps form young men who are equipped to become the next leaders of their communities: young men who are proud of their association with the school and its motto, Facere et Docere, ‘To do and to Teach’.

1910 – Cardinal Moran wrote to Br Barron (Christian Brother’s Provincial) “to send 5 Brothers to staff St Mary’s Parochial Primary School”. In 1911, 4 Christian Brothers took up the invitation and were responsible for teaching Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth boy classes. This was to be the beginning of a long and fruitful association between the Christian Brothers and St Mary’s Cathedral that continues to this day. In this time the Brothers have witnessed and been responsible for many changes.

1912 – The 3-story school building was completed with Christian Brother’s Boys School on the ground floor and the Sister of Charity Girls School on the other floors.

1914A fourth floor was added to the building, which was the Brother’s residence.

1916 – By 1916 the primary school education (years 3 to 6) initially requested of the Christian Brothers had been extended to the Intermediate certificate level with the presentation of students for these external examination established by the 1910 Labor Government. Primary education and High School education to the Intermediate Certificate remained the main emphasis of education till 1945 when the leaving certificate was firmly established.

Even before the Christian Brothers association with St Mary’s Cathedral demographic changes in the inner city associated with commercialisation and industrialisation were causing the population to decline and having an affect on enrolments.

To overcome falling enrolments the cathedral school became more dependent on enrolments of students from anywhere in the Sydney geographical basin. This coupled with the proposed building of new secondary schools at Rose Bay, Bondi Beach, Daceyville and Pagewood for the mid 1940’s led Br. Gygar Principal (1938–1942) to seek and gain registration of the school as the “Cathedral Choir School”. This enabled students to obtain rail and bus concessions from any part of the metropolitan area to travel to St Mary’s Cathedral and to pass other secondary schools on the way. This change in registration ensured sufficient enrolments after the building of the pre-mentioned schools. However, the title “Christian Brothers High School, St Mary’s Cathedral” persisted until the adoption of “St Mary’s Cathedral College”.

1947 – The college was granted full Secondary School Certification and Registration under the Bursary Endowment Board. 1947 also saw the inauguration of the house competition system; a competition that still exists today.

1962 Together with all other high schools in NSW the Wyndham Scheme was introduced.

Perhaps the most serious consequence of this change was the additional classrooms that had to be provided as the duration of secondary schooling increased from five to six years. Additional classrooms were partly provided by taking over the remaining first floor classrooms, a process started in the 1940’s as enrolments at the girls school run by the Sisters of Charity declined.

1963 – As an interim measure two rooms in the Chapter Hall were used for Form One secondary boys in 1963 and for Form 2 in the following year.

1964 – Extra rooms were provided in 1964 when the Charity Sisters had a demountable building put on the north side of the building for Kindergarten, First and Second classes.

1965–1968 – Other classrooms were provided at St. Benedict’s Broadway for the boys in fourth, fifth and sixth classes, until a new building to provide Science laboratories and extra classrooms started in 1965 was completed in 1968.

1968 also marked the end of an era with girl education no longer being provided on the St Mary’s site and the boys school taking over the top floors. The girls’ commercial classes were transferred to the Charity Sisters’ site at Paddington.

1973 – In 1973 an extra floor was added to the building. This floor was named the Cardinal Freeman Resource Centre (school library) an old boy of the school.

The combined year 5/6 class continues to be an integral part of the College to this day but it has expanded as Bishop Fisher has sought to expand the choir. We now house a Primary cohort from Years 3-6 and they are a much loved and very dynamic part, of our College structure.

1981 – In December 1981, the Brothers were forced to vacate the residence on the top floor of the main building as fire regulations meant it could no longer be used as a residence.

Fire regulations and building regulations requirements by the 1980’s meant the 1912 building, that housed the majority of classrooms, had “passed its used by date”. Br Hoffman, Principal (1985–2000) and his executive team looked at all possible alternatives before making the critical decision that the 1912 building had to be demolished.