Bethlehem College: Star of the Inner West

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Bethlehem College students outside St Mary's Cathedral after a Mass marking the school's 140th anniversary. Photo: Bethlehem College, Ashfield
Bethlehem College students outside St Mary’s Cathedral after a Mass marking the school’s 140th anniversary. Photo: Bethlehem College, Ashfield

From humble origins with only 20 students when it opened its doors in 1881, Bethlehem College Ashfield has blossomed into a leader in Catholic girls’ education in Sydney’s inner-west, counting prominent judges, politicians and even a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist amongst its distinguished alumni.

The school, which was founded by the Sisters of Charity, now boasts over 500 students and marked its 140th anniversary with a special Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 18 June, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady.

“Bethlehem College was one of the first girls schools in Sydney to build science laboratories in the 1960s and … encouraged a strong commitment to social justice and service for the poor.” – Ms Ann Freeman

Its current principal Ms Ann Freeman said the school is very proud of its long history, strong academic tradition and excellent pastoral care.

“We were the first all girls Catholic school in the inner-west and the Sisters of Charity helped nurture a strong commitment to academic excellence which continues today through the Newman program for gifted and talented students”, she explained.

“Bethlehem College was one of the first girls schools in Sydney to build science laboratories in the 1960s and alongside that academic tradition, the Sisters of Charity also encouraged a strong commitment to social justice and service for the poor which we still see today through a very active volunteer program through programs such as the St Vincent De Paul Society’s Night Patrol for the homeless”.

Bethlehem College students and staff gather outside St Mary's Cathedral after a Mass marking the school's 140th anniversary. Photo: Bethlehem College, Ashfield
Bethlehem College students and staff gather outside St Mary’s Cathedral after a Mass marking the school’s 140th anniversary. Photo: Bethlehem College, Ashfield

To mark its 140th anniversary, the school held a concert to celebrate its rich cultural diversity with Tongan, Korean and Irish dance performances, followed by an all school BBQ.

Alumni and representatives from the Sisters of Charity attended the cathedral Mass, alongside state MPs, Ms Jo Haylen and Ms Jodi McKay.

“Tradition provides a sense of belonging and meaning to our lives. But good traditions evolve and change, leading to new opportunities and experiences.” – Principal Ann Freeman

The school’s most prominent alumni include Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent, Ms Geraldine Brooks, former federal court judge, Justice Deidre O’Connor and former NSW Labor government minister, Mrs Barbara Perry.

Principal Ann Freeman said while the school is proud of its long history, it is also firmly focused on continuing to offer a strong Catholic education for future generations as well.

“Tradition provides a sense of belonging and meaning to our lives. But good traditions evolve and change, leading to new opportunities and experiences. Bethlehem College has the best of both and it is this that makes it the unique place it continues to be”.

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