Back in the days when I was growing up Catholic in South Australia in the 60s & 70s, the old stone building at Sevenhill, known as the College (above image), was the place of Ignatian spirituality – at least to me. The College is next door to the grand old country church, St. Aloysius Catholic Church, my main childhood place of worship.
The images above show different aspects of the College which remains a part of Sevenhill Cellars & Winery today. The top image shows the Church on the right & a part of the College on the left.
Back then, the College wasn’t an official place of Jesuit & Ignatian spirituality like that which emerged years later as the Sevenhill Retreat Centre. I was living overseas (USA) when that was established.
The Jesuit College, regarded as the Monastery or Abbey by some, was & remains the place where the Jesuit fathers, the priests & brothers live. It is, today, the headquarters of the Jesuit Parish of Sevenhill.
At one time, long before my time, it was an independent Catholic boys college, a Jesuit boarding school.
Sevenhill, was the birthplace of the Jesuits in Australia after they arrived in Adelaide as chaplains to a group of Austrians that fled Europe to escape political & religious oppression. The immigrants settled near the township of Clare & the Jesuits purchased 100 acres of land in 1851, naming it Sevenhill after the Seven Hill district of Rome.
In addition to serving Catholics as the population grew in the north of South Australia, the Jesuits of Sevenhill planted vines, built a church and opened a college, which became the first Catholic boys’ school in the colony and also served as a seminary for the training of priests.
Sevenhill Cellars, St Aloysius’ Church and the College building remain today as integral parts of the Jesuit community, with the Sevenhill property regarded as a site of spiritual and historic significance.
From their beginnings at Sevenhill, the Jesuits’ presence in Australia expanded to include the eastern colonies, with the Austrians of South Australia joined by the Irish in Melbourne and Sydney. Both groups worked industriously to expand their role in education, missions, parishes and retreat houses. In 1901, an Australian Mission was formed and this became a fully constituted Jesuit Province in 1950.
Today, Jesuits in Australia are involved in a variety of missions, including extensive commitments in parishes, education, publishing, spirituality programs and social justice. Their early work with Aborigines in the Northern Territory has evolved into new programs involving Indigenous communities and there is a significant focus on the disadvantaged, including refugees and the homeless, unemployed and drug-dependent. The Australian Jesuit Mission to India is another major project.
The College was not a public building. It wasn’t open to all & anybody. From an early age, I had heard about the upstairs library in the College. As I developed & in my late primary/early high school days, I used to think if I could just get inside the College & up the dark stairway to the library. Being kind of off limits made it more attractive. What was it like, this place of sacred texts & scriptures, of bibles, of religiously edifying writings, of history & theology books? It became a place of divine wonder for me. In the end & as my high school years progressed, I came to spend more time at the College. Mum would be there for some sort of parish meetings &/or waiting for me as I attended after school religious education usually on a Friday night if I recall correctly. Yep, further Jessy (Jesuit) education. True little fish-eater I was 🐟 😀 Ultimately, I found my way up the rickety stairs to that mystical place, the library, a dark & musty room with rows of books, shelves of books & more. I loved the smell of those old tomes. I loved touching them, holding them.
One of my favourite priests of the time was Fr. Burke. An elderly, balding man, gentle & genteel, often with clasped hands, he had the patience of Job. Fr. Burke was one of those men, an intellectual spirit, a quintessential Jesuit spirit, a parish priest, who never said much but said a lot. Like his fellow Jesuits, Father Holland & Brother Hanlon, he listened, chewed the cud with me. Good old Latin even came up though not to any extent. Hallelujah! These guys played an important part in my youthful life, in enlightening my mind. Later it was Fr. Cardiff & Brother May.
They would talk to me passionately, sort of counsel me, in their kind of holy inspirational way, about the value of books, about history, law, including moral law, science, language & education, about reading & thinking, about asking questions, challenging . . . a bit of extra curricula Jessy education for me. They talked about caring. About caring for the world around us, the earth, the environment & about caring for others. Indeed, I believed they were grace & truth. They introduced me to St. Ignatius & St. Augustine.
In reality, of course, there was little Latin in our conversations & only what was necessary. Back then Latin was saved for Mass on Sundays & various other Church orthodoxies & ceremonies or at High School at Clare where I actually studied Latin. Indeed.
In retrospect, Sevenhill College was the unofficial centre of intellectual progression & education for me, all within the Ignatian-Jesuit cura personalis approach to the needs of people. ‘Cura personalis’ is Latin & simply means ‘caring for the entire person’.
To this day I use the ‘cura personalis‘ framework in practicing law & attending to the needs of others who become a part of my life as a criminal lawyer. It is quite simple in that one realises & shows respect for a person’s unique circumstances, interests & concerns. You appreciate the person’s particular talents, gifts & insights. You look at the whole person.
Fr. Burke, like his brother Jesuits, had studied before entering the priesthood. Generally, Jesuits are well educated with at least one tertiary degree under their belt before they enter the priesthood where they spend many more years in post graduate studies focusing on things like theology, scripture & philosophy. The Jesuits I grew up with were learned, they had brains, they were bookish. They would not permit one to be uncultured or uneducated & always felt it their duty to instruct those less knowledgeable than themselves. My enquiring mind, my thirst for knowledge, meant I was a good ‘student’.
Fr. Burke was, in fact, a scientist before he became a Jesuit. One of his roles at Sevenhill College was to oversee, or take care of, the seismograph set up in the crypt (above image) under St. Aloysius Church. With the consent of the Jesuits, the University of Adelaide set it up there if I recall correctly. Fr. Burke was the caretaker of the project.
This is a more recent shot of the College, the stone building with dormer windows on the left of St. Aloysius church. Some of the images can be found here. Some are from Sevenhill Cellars here while some are widely available via Google & so forth. And find more on the history of the Jesuits at Sevenhill here.
As mentioned, the College was originally St. Aloysius College, an independent Catholic boys college & the first Catholic boarding school in South Australia. Years later it was a seminary, a novitiate, a place for sabbaticals, contemplation & retreats, a place for aspiring priests to come for study & learning, to meditate, to pray. It remains a part of Sevenhill Cellars & Winery today, a place not to be missed in your travels.
The College is, of course, part of the Jesuits’ magnificent Sevenhill Cellars & Winery that makes not just altar wine, for domestic & international use, but some of the nation’s top table wine. Indeed.
The College today rests serene in its setting of vineyards & gum trees.
Unlike any winery that I have ever visited, the Sevenhill Winery is an experience in itself. Established by the Jesuits in 1851, it is the oldest winery in the Clare Valley and it originally produced altar wine for the Catholic Church, but is now recognized for its premium table wines. 50 Shades of Age
There are numerous sites with reviews e.g. Trip Advisor if you’re interested in a visit. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours or more at this heritage place as there is much to see and do.
Looking back at the College and St. Aloysius Church.
This is the main altar of the old Church . . . and there’s those long wooden pews. How many times did I sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel . . . in this Church? How many times did I partake in those ceremonies? How many times did I sing, pray, chant, worship . . . divine worship, revere, listen to sermons, take sacraments, communion, be lenten & fast, eat fish on Fridays, confess my sins, accept absolution, do my penance . . . How many baptisms did I attend? At least 7 as I have 7 younger siblings (& one older). How many days, weeks & hours did I spend in this place?
Indeed, I believed it all, believed in the ‘higher power’ because it was ‘revealed’ to the Church or so I was told. ‘Ad maiorem Dei gloriam’ – to the greater glory of God, the Jesuit motto. Reason did not play a part then. I believed the fiction because the moral seemed sound, seemed good. The moral law laid down by the Church that is.
Large portions of my young life were spent in & around this old place. In the late 60s, following Vatican II (1962-65) & the reforms it brought, the liturgy became a little easier to follow when the vernacular, or English in our case, replaced Latin. More accessible to the people. All could sing the hymns now & know what the words meant. Much fuller participation. Out with the old, in with the new. Even the church organ was retired. New instruments like guitars, drums, a double bass became a part of Mass. I played acoustic guitar in our little group of 3-4, a group that played regularly at weekend masses at St. Aloysius & St. Michaels in Clare. All these things linger in my imagination as a memory.
As I say, a real little fish-eater I was 🐟
Such a good 👼🏻 Catholic girl.
A definite shoe in for Heaven 👍🏻 ⛪️
Vineyards looking back to the Church
Who remembers the annual Corpus Christi and May processions in the grounds of St. Aloysius?
The May procession culminated in the crowning of Our Lady, Mary, at her shrine/grotto on the grounds of Sevenhill.
You can visit the grotto.
The State Library’s Sevenhill Historical Collection has more vintage images. This one (above) from the 1920s, shows that little, if anything, had changed when we worshipped as young Catholics in the 1960s & early 70s. These photos could be us in our pristine, pure white dresses, white veils & white socks.
There are various images of St. Aloysius Church, the College & the Cellars available on the web, a testament to the thousands who visit this magnificent heritage site in South Australia each year.
My young life started at Sevenhill, a spiritual & moral life that revolved around the local ecclesiastics, the Jesuits & St. Joseph nuns, all of whom became a part of the furniture of my mind.
In a future post I’ll chat about St. Josephs’ Convent, my first school as a 5 year old. This one roomed school, located in the heart of the village of Sevenhill, belonged to the Jesuit Parish.
And, yes, we caught the bus to school. We learned to write, in cursive, using a nibbed pen dipped in an ink-well of indigo ink . . . & then there were blotters . . . and we got ink on our fingers and, heaven forbid, our uniforms.
After that school closed, we were bussed further to attend St. Joseph’s Convent in the next town, Clare, a school also in the Jesuit Parish of Sevenhill.