This year marks 55 years since the closure of St Patrick’s College, which used to be located on the corner of Cathedral Place and Lansdowne Street in East Melbourne. Today, all that remains of the former Jesuit college is the tower that still stands on the edge of the St Patrick’s Cathedral car park and a 400-strong Old Collegians’ Association, which maintains the connection between former students and their rich, shared history.

To mark the anniversary, more than 100 former St Patrick’s Collegians (‘Old Patricians’) met at the Glenferrie Hotel in Hawthorn, in Melbourne’s inner east, on Saturday 4 February. They travelled from across Victoria and Australia, with one former student who usually lives in Switzerland attending the celebrations.

Peter Rogan, President of St Patrick’s Old Collegians’ Association (SPOCA), explained that the reunion was aimed at all Old Patricians ‘across all classes and eras’, with representation on the day spanning those who attended the college from about 1945 through to the final classes of 1968, including large numbers of students from the early sixties. Among the attendees were 24 of the past players and officials of the Patricians Football Club, which existed from 1965 to 1968 in the Victorian Amateur Football Association.

‘The fact that we had over 100 starters and 70 apologies only serves to reinforce the unique and extraordinary Patrician camaraderie that exists to this day, which was on ample display at the reunion, even 55 years after the school closed,’ says Peter. ‘It is the living demonstration that, as suggested by the title of Fr Michael Head SJ and Fr Gerard Healy SJ’s book (both were Old Patricians), St Pat’s was “more than a school”.’ Special mention was also given to the organising committee, driven by the 'enthusiasm and organisation skills' of Bill Dowling.

Vice-president of SPOCA and former student Paul McColl reflected on his years at the college, and his ongoing involvement with the Old Collegians’ Association. He is grateful for the strong ties he still has with the Old Patricians and marvels at the fact that the connection has ‘kept going as strongly as it has, and for so long’. This includes students who only attended Grade 5 in the school’s final year of 1968. Even though they had been very young (11–12 years old) and at the school for just one year, they still retained sufficient connection to the school to join a reunion 55 years later.

‘Each year, many of the Old Patricians meet for informal gatherings, or for an organised annual dinner,’ Paul explains. ‘As well as maintaining friendships from all those years ago, the social justice and mission ethos of the Jesuits remains an important part of the old collegians’ identity and purpose. The most notable being our support of Jesuit Mission, which has locations in various places, but largely in Australia and India. Fr Billy Dwyer SJ, who was a student at St Pat’s, joined the Jesuits in 1948 and, in 1952, went to one of their missions in India, and he’s still there!’

Individual members of the association raise around $6,000–7,000 each year to donate to Jesuit Mission. SPOCA has also raised money from among its membership to provide an annual scholarship to a teaching student at Australian Catholic University who receives high marks and demonstrates a strong commitment to the pursuit of social justice, the ethos of St Patrick’s Jesuit College and the Jesuits who taught there for 103 years.

Paul was at St Patrick’s from 1955 to 1967; he left one year before the school was officially closed in 1968. ‘It was a relatively small school, about 300 students, and we had many football teams and cricket teams, and the army cadet unit, so you knew not only the guys in your own class, but most of the kids in all the other year levels,’ he explains. ‘It was a close-knit community for the kids in each class, but it was a wider community of friendships in knowing the guys who were a few years above and a few years below you as well.’

He comments that Old Patricians come from all walks of life and have gone on to do a variety of things in their professional lives. ‘There have certainly been many significant achievements made by those Old Patricians—in the medical, legal, educational and financial fields, in areas of social justice and mission work both here and overseas, in spiritual life, and in many other fields of endeavour, not the least being raising families of which we can be proud.’ In his own life, Paul became a secondary teacher, is married and has two adult daughters.

He explains that keeping in contact since the school’s closure has been important for the Old Patricians.

The annual gatherings provide an opportunity for old collegians to reconnect, to strengthen their friendships, to reminisce and to chat about current events. No matter who anybody is now, or what they’re doing or where they’re living, we all just know each other from back in our school days and try to keep in touch as much as we can.

Reflecting on how this year’s celebrations came about, Paul says that at last year’s gathering, a few of the men decided it’d be good to celebrate the 55-year anniversary of the college’s closure. ‘We recognise that 55 isn’t a particularly auspicious number—gold and diamond anniversaries are usually the main ones—however, there mightn’t be so many of us around if we wait until the 60th anniversary. Our youngest is in his late sixties now.’

The 55-year anniversary celebrations also took on a special new meaning when the men realised the anniversary stone for 55 years is emerald, which ties in with the schools’ Irish roots. The college was run by Irish Jesuits from 1865 as one of the first secondary schools in Melbourne, so commemorating 55 years ‘ties in nicely with our Emerald Isle heritage’, according to Paul.

Having attended Saturday’s celebrations, Paul was delighted with the gathering and the opportunity to catch up with old friends. ‘So many said during the conversations, and via emails after they returned home, how much they enjoyed the day and how it reinforced the great friendships they shared during an important part of their lives,’ Paul explains.

‘In addition to the many votes of thanks, there have also been a number of requests for contact details of old mates so that they can continue conversations which were only barely beginning during the afternoon. The oldest attendees began their St Pat’s school life in about 1945, and there were quite a number who were at the school during the later 40s and throughout the 50s.

‘It was also interesting to hear how some have spent their lives since then. One in particular was Julian Carr, who now lives in Switzerland, although he has been back in Australia for a couple of months over Christmas. Half of his time in Europe is spent in agricultural pursuits in the Swiss countryside, while the other half of his life each year is spent in small country villages in Tanzania helping villagers with their agriculture, water supply, education and much more, as part of the Fair World Foundation.

St Patrick’s College began in 1854 as one of the first secondary schools in Melbourne and was run by the Irish Jesuits from 1865. St Patrick’s Old Collegians’ Association, known as SPOCA, was officially founded in 1912, and although the college was closed in 1968, the Association has functioned continuously ever since its inception. An extensive archive of photographs related to St Patrick’s College and SPOCA can be found on the Victorian Collections website.