At St Clare’s the Good Shepherd philosophy is that

  • each one counts

  • they’re all special

  • and important

  • and worth the effort.

  • And that makes the difference

School Crest


St Clare’s School in Western Australia is a unique place where, over the past fifty years, adolescent girls with marked educational, behavioural or social needs have been able to re- engage with education in a small group setting.

Most of the girls have survived major disruptions to the normal course of life and education; some have shown attributes which have exhausted and defied the efforts and resources available in mainstream schools; all have unmet educational needs.

Without the specific and sustained philosophy and service that has evolved into St Clare’s, most would have faced severely limited life choices – those options for choice of jobs and financial independence, options for understanding different ways of family and social interaction, and options for belief in their own abilities.

The school has evolved throughout times of rapid social change affecting the lives of families, women, the Church, and the responses of society in the educational and welfare services that it provides.

Essential to this evolution is the character, resilience and leadership shown by a small group of women to change the lives of others.

These women, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, built the school on their understanding of human needs, those of women and girls particularly, and sustained it by dedication and inspiration, as well as by the intelligence and hard work of its founders and principals.

In the face of major obstacles and threats - which at times seemed ready to overwhelm the school - the Sisters mustered resources and allies to prevail, and to consolidate the current St Clare’s School.

The story of this exceptional school can be told in the words of its leaders, by the school that stands, by the archives that detail some of the struggles and achievements, and through the voices of students, teachers and others who have invested so much of themselves into St Clare’s.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 1 Introduction

St Clare’s School in Lathlain, Western Australia, is a secondary school educating up to thirty girls aged from thirteen to seventeen in a small setting.

The girls have faced major obstacles in gaining an education.

For some this has taken place over many years, for others it has resulted from sudden interruptions to the normal course of their adolescent lives.

These obstacles and disruptions have been so significant that the girls cannot participate successfully in mainstream education, and without an alternative source of teaching and learning, their transition to adult life and independence can be severely compromised.

In many cases this has the potential to be both a personal tragedy - setting a course for lifelong disadvantage - and a substantial cost to all of society. St Clare’s School is a place where intervention and support for the individual learning and development needs of these young people can make a world of difference.

Few alternatives to the large government and non-government secondary schools exist in Western Australia, and fewer offer the necessary specialist teaching in a suitably sized, supportive learning environment for students with extreme needs or difficulties.

St Clare’s School for girls is unique in its provision for these students over the past fifty years.

In its bright and modern learning environment St Clare’s provides individual instruction according to the student’s academic level from Year Eight to Year Twelve.

In addition girls are offered career planning, work experience, regular evaluation and review of academic progress, and group work to develop social and communication skills, self-esteem and assertiveness.

There is a management system to improve classroom behaviour and attendance and to support the school’s objectives, individual counselling by a social worker or school counsellor, help and guidance for parents and care-givers, and after-care support and guidance for those who need it.

For the first time the school is implementing a mentoring programme, linking students with an adult outside their own existing networks, to have fun and to develop different skills and knowledge for recreation and life outside and beyond school.

Sister Geraldine held the role as principal for almost twenty years, having previously worked with young women at St Clare’s and in other aspects of the Good Shepherd Sisters’ work for a similar period wherein her social work and other welfare qualifications have been pivotal.

Others who provide services at the school include five classroom teachers and an art teacher, a psychologist, a youth worker and the school administrator.

There are several volunteers with particular skills, some of whom have been associated with the school for many years.

Srs Geraldine and Pat

Girls in metropolitan Perth of secondary school age and experiencing persistent school related difficulties are eligible to enrol at the school.

The difficulties leading to their enrolment can include habitual truancy, suspensions from school, unsatisfactory academic progress, frequent changes of school, poor self-esteem and lack of confidence, problems in relationships with peers and with those in authority, and disengaging from school and learning due to substance abuse and psychological or mental health problems.

The causes of truancy and lack of progress in education are well understood at St Clare’s and have shaped the school’s program and services.

Many layers of problems can combine and result in the student withdrawing from the normal school environment.

These can arise from family difficulties such as the chronic illness of any family member, bereavement or intense conflict affecting parents, from peer group behaviours such as bullying and gang-related behaviours and from the school environment itself.

These may cause such anxiety to the young person that they cannot attend to learning.

Soon the failure at academic progress results in further stress.
It is at this point that a student may withdraw from school attendance and further educational development and as a consequence face much poorer opportunities in life.

Sister Geraldine Mitchell describes two features that define the work of St Clare’s:
its size
and the way that teaching and learning are managed.

The small group learning is the secret.

That combined with reducing a student’s stress level.

Stress is reduced when the students are clear about the teacher’s expectations, and they are given work that is suited to their level of learning.

A student does have to relearn appropriate communication and behaviour within a school environment, because in many cases they’ve developed patterns to try and meet their needs in an inappropriate way.

That has to be addressed for them to operate successfully in the school environment and for them to be developing the communication skills that are going to lead them into further study, or employment or a purposeful life.

Although the number of girls attending the school is small, the expanse of students’ particular learning needs is wide, requiring teaching across many subject areas.

Teachers of the government Education Department’s School of Isolated and Distance Education work co-operatively with teachers at St Clare’s to enable upper secondary students to study the most appropriate subjects for their future careers.

Not all students seeking enrolment can be placed in the school, and an active and thorough admissions process is followed.

This requires the girl to participate in an interview for enrolment, and her request to be accepted by the school’s Admissions Board.

Before a new student is enrolled the Board considers whether the potential student‘s needs are compatible with the dynamics of the current group so as not to jeopardize the progress of other students.

A girl’s enrolment can be short-term and she can return to her former school if she feels confident in the progress she has made to overcome the gaps and difficulties that led her to St Clare’s.

If the resources of St Clare’s match her learning needs she can extend enrolment until she has completed secondary schooling.

Established by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1956 St Clare’s School is now under the joint auspices of the Archdiocese of Perth and the Provincial Leader of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Australia/Aotearoa New Zealand.

The location, services, resources and processes of St Clare’s School in 2006 are very different from those in place when the Sisters of the Good Shepherd began the work of the school, fifty years ago, and when Sister Patricia Evans, then Sister Mary Leo, was appointed as Principal in 1957.

But in essence the school - its spirit and traditions, its heart and soul - remain the same.

Four women, all as Sisters of the Good Shepherd who played a significant part in the school’s history, today remain a vital part of the school’s life.

The school’s founding Principal, Sister Patricia Evans, recently deceased, attended some mornings each week to assist in individual tutoring of some students.

The former Principal, Sister Geraldine Mitchell, has provided strength, modernity and commitment to the school for the past thirty years.

Mrs Eileen Bouwman, who as Sister Mary Agnes was the school’s Principal over five years in the 1970s, currently teaches Art and Design to the students.

Sister Naomi McClements, is a member of the School’s Board, and, as a former Area Leader, has played an important role in ensuring the school’s survival.
Sister Naomi maintains contact with past students she cared for as a “Group Mother” in the days when St Clare’s was part of the Home of the Good Shepherd in Leederville.

Apart from these important figures who link the school so strongly to its origins, the change in surrounds, staffing and operation from its beginnings to today could hardly be more marked.

The fifty-year period is one of enormous change in social life in Western Australia affecting women, education and welfare practices, and the Church.

The way in which these Good Shepherd Sisters’ philosophy, purpose and effort have inspired, shaped and sustained the school throughout these fifty years is central in this history.

Chapter 2 The school’s founders and benefactors

Chapter 2 The school’s founders and benefactors

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Many people have played a part in the school’s journey and evolution over fifty years, but its origins and inspiration have come from the Good Shepherd Sisters, and their particular work and values.

The Good Shepherd Sisters are a religious order of the Catholic Church.

They have a long tradition of practice in social work and “charity”, beginning as the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.

One powerful image that expresses their work is that of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the flock of ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one which is missing – one who has not kept up, or who has run away, and is vulnerable.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd were called to work with women and girls who were “disowned” or homeless and at risk of exploitation.

The Order was founded in France in 1835 by Rose Virginie Pelletier (1796–1868), a remarkable young woman of her time, whose religious name was Sister Mary Euphrasia.

As a young woman she originally joined the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge in Tours, France.

This Congregation provided refuges and shelter for women and girls and had grown out of the work of St John Eudes who lived two hundred years earlier.

Good Shepherd Convent Angers France

Good Shepherd Convent
Angers France

Mother Mary Euphrasia was elected Superior of the Tours Refuge community at the age of twenty-eight.

At the invitation of the local Bishop she established a new house in Angers, France, in 1829 and in 1835 this house became the foundation of a new Congregation known as Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd as they came to be known, quickly developed into an international congregation.

The Australian foundation was established just five years before Mother Mary Euphrasia died in 1868 aged seventy-two

Some of the experiences of her early life strongly influenced her approach to caring for others and have particular resonance for the work her followers undertook.

She described these events in discussion with some of the Sisters who joined her and their notes of the time survive.

Rose Virginie Pelletier enjoyed a very happy early family life on the French island of Noirmoutier.

Her father was a physician and the family often gave assistance and shelter to people in need.

However, the death in 1806 of her father, the loss of three siblings and her mother’s serious illness four years later changed life for her.

Aged thirteen she was sent to a boarding school in the city of Tours.
Although this was not distant from her home, in those days it took a journey of three nights and three days and represented a major separation

Rose Pelletier or Sr Mary Euphrasie

The school had been chosen because of her mother’s friendship with the Mother Superior there but this was not enough to overcome feelings of abandonment in Rose Virginie.
She experienced the separation from home, unkind behaviour from peers, and severe regime as a most unhappy time.

When she was prevented from attending her mother’s funeral she was inconsolable.

Rose Virginie describes herself as not being pious as a child but was much affected by the care and kindness of one of her teachers.

By the time she reached fifteen she had found inner resources and consolation in God.

She took interest in a refuge being very discreetly provided in the grounds of the boarding school for “young girls who had behaved badly in the world”, and was inspired by the religious people who worked there.

They were of the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge.

Rose Virginie’s persistence in the face of all opposition to her joining this group was formidable, and she was finally “after many struggles and a lot of resistance”at the age of eighteen given permission by her guardians to join those working in the refuge. This determination and force of character was needed in her later work.

Her experiences of loving family relationships as well as loss and hardship had made her sensitive to the lives of others.

She placed great importance on daily relationships and told her novices: “Never deprive the children. Their hidden pain can become a wall between the person and God. Love and Charity are the only things that can pierce it.”

Mother Mary Euphrasia inspired the Sisters with her understanding of human weakness, and her great respect for the dignity of every person.

Her followers today are well grounded in this belief, “so that no matter what background anybody comes from, they’re still the person of dignity.”

One of her favourite sayings was: “A person is of more value than a world.”

Her strengths of compassion, belief and action are evident in writings from the time - a time when women were treated as children, were without the protection of civic laws, and whose lives and roles were limited by the prevailing social strictures.

Mother Mary Euphrasia’s vision of the need for work with women and girls was not confined to her own immediate surroundings, or at the direction of a particular diocese.

Sister Naomi McClements explains the extent of this vision of the foundress:

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge would work locally, and because she lived in the period when nations were exploring new worlds, Mother Euphrasia had the vision that she could form a Generalate where people could be trained, and could go out all over the world. We became a Generalate –a worldwide configuration.
That’s where we come from - it’s part of our formation, in itself saying you look at the needs of the world, you look at the social needs of the time. You just incorporate that into your life. It shows how you need to be in touch with the times. Mother Euphrasia acted on what was appropriate at the time.

Saint Mary Euphrasia was canonised on 2 May 1940.

The inspiration and the services she engendered over one hundred and seventy years ago endure and are in much demand today in countries as culturally and economically diverse as France and Burma.

In Australia the Good Shepherd Sisters provide ministry to women in prisons, to the aged, in youth and family services, and in various innovative community services aimed at empowerment and opportunity such as the Trading Circle.

Their particular focus is women and girls who are not assisted by other services.

The order in Western Australia
The history of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Leederville is integral to the story of the fifty year journey of St Clare’s School.

Not only did the school begin as an initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters, but its early decades in particular were inextricably tied to the work and daily life within the institution known as the Home of the Good Shepherd in Leederville.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd settled in Perth, Western Australia in 1902 as the result of a specific request of the Catholic Bishop Gibney.

The pace of change in the developing State of Western Australia was being felt in the increasing visibility of social problems.

Various non-government organisations - mostly religious - were providing services and it was the social work in particular of the Good Shepherd Sisters, which the Bishop sought.

They were to provide a service for women and girls whose needs had been identified as being outside the scope of other rganisations.

Three Good Shepherd Sisters from the Congregation at Abbotsford, Melbourne established the first community in the centre of Perth and after considerable delays and difficulties the Home of the Good Shepherd was built in 1904 on land purchased at Leederville, then on the outskirts of Perth.

Good Shepherd Convent


The stated purpose of the Sisters was
“the uplifting of those for whom the world has lost its charm, and the reformation of a younger class of children confided to them by the parents or the State.”

The Home of the Good Shepherd was set in twenty acres and grew into a large complex - a landmark in Perth.

In addition to the convent, which housed the Sisters, the institution provided accommodation, work, refuge or containment for young and older women.

Some were there for short periods, and others stayed for many years.

Some of the women were there for care and shelter, their families being unable to provide for their lifelong needs; a small number were women with an intellectual disability, as at the time it was considered that their care was beyond the capacity of the family.

The role as a reformatory meant that a significant number were referred by the courts to be confined and for rehabilitation.

A hostel for working women was also housed on the grounds. As many as one hundred and twenty women and girls lived on the site in various groupings. Those living within the Home were supported from funds of the Good Shepherd Order itself, from limited State Government contributions and from the proceeds of the industrial laundry which was run by the Sisters and staffed by residents and a number of outside employees.

Chickens and cows were kept and vegetables grown to supplement provisions for the residents.

Front view from the Home of the Good Shepherd

In post-World War II Western Australia increasing numbers of younger women were being identified by police, courts, families and welfare agencies as being in need of care, protection or rehabilitation.

The State Government’s resources and provisions for dealing with these younger girls were under-developed, and counted heavily on voluntary agencies such as the Good Shepherd Sisters to meet the needs.

From the late 1940s only teen-aged girls were admitted to the Home of the Good Shepherd18, although some older women, the permanent residents, remained.

As part of the response to the changing post-war society, the Leederville Community changed its services and facilities.

For example, the reformatory, in a separate building known as St Mary’s Class, was closed, renovated and re-named Maryville.

It became a hostel for working girls and later for those in further studies,19 most of whose families lived in country Western Australia.

Residents from the reformatory were housed in the main convent, separate from the area where the younger girls were being admitted.

This changing population with different needs challenged the Sisters to develop different ways of working.

Two important characteristics of the Good Shepherd Sisters influenced the development of welfare services for such young women in Western Australia and brought about the beginnings of St Clare’s School.

These were the transfer of knowledge and exchange of individual Sisters amongst the various Good Shepherd communities, and the willingness of their leaders to challenge the status quo.

The Mother Provincial, visiting the Leederville Convent from Abbotsford, Melbourne, in August 1956, conveyed this spirit. In language which would not be used today, but which reflected the attitudes of the time “this young and lively white-robed woman told the Perth reporter accompanying her in a tour of the laundry and dormitories for the girls at the Home of the Good Shepherd:

“It is useless to look upon our charges from the point of view of our own sheltered lives and our lofty ideals. We have to try to think and feel as they do in order to understand them. No girl is innately bad. They’re just weak and easily led. The weakest is the easiest to lead back into virtue. Some of the home environments and influences are so unsatisfactory we marvel the girls aren’t worse than they are.”

The Mother Provincial admitted that compared with what the Order is doing overseas the Leederville branch is lagging. Time and a fresh approach to the work in hand will soon change that.

A newly completed school-room was to be staffed with a full-time teacher. And when the Sisters can devote themselves entirely to human rehabilitation, the laundry annexe will disappear. It did take time, and not only did the laundry disappear, but that vision soon took the Sisters’ work far beyond the convent walls.

The establishment of the school for the younger girls within the institution would be one step in the evolution of these services

The focus on education for these girls at the time would have been quite progressive.

Although not a teaching order, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd who founded and preserved St Clare’s School held the firm view that the opportunity to achieve contemporary educational standards was essential to the future of the girls enrolled.

Girls placed in the Home by courts or by families included those who had disengaged entirely with school as well as those who would expect to return to their schools at the end of their residence or detention there. In the most optimum of circumstances this might end within three months, but for most girls the period was much longer. Successfully resuming or re-engaging with education would have been unlikely for many of these girls until the school within the institution could be provided.

The fifty year journey of St Clare’s School has been travelled in parallel with the wider work of the Good Shepherd Sisters in rapidly changing social circumstances.

In balancing the tensions of the “trail blazers” and those following a more traditional path the Order has sometimes seen great cost to individuals and to the group.

Throughout, the Sisters’ commitment has been to find the best way to put in practice their belief in providing for the dignity and needs of women and young girls at the margins of society.

Chapter 3 The beginnings of the school

Chapter 3 The beginnings of the school, 1956 to 1965
Initiative for education

Grotto in the Home of the Good Shepherd

The establishment of St Clare’s School and its development in the first fifteen years has its context in the life of the Home of the Good Shepherd at Leederville.

The school was one of several activities located in the grounds of the Home throughout this time and all of its pupils lived on the site.

While its educational practices were maintained to contemporary standards, its character was shaped by the close interaction with the daily life of the Home of the Good Shepherd and its various operations. The pupils who attended, the resources and staffing of the school and its direction were determined by the work and policies of the Good Shepherd Sisters within the Home.

The Prioress at the Home of the Good Shepherd, Mother Mary of St Clare O’Grady, appointed in 1953, had instituted various initiatives for residents of the Home. These included in 1954 the employment of a teacher of physical education, as well as provision of new facilities to meet the needs of the younger girls being admitted.

Such events and a further initiative were recorded by the Leederville Convent’s annalist, who in April 1956 wrote: : “A new schoolroom is being built to accommodate the growing number of teenagers, and our very honoured Mother is hoping we shall soon get a qualified teacher for them.” Meeting the costs of providing for those in their care was a constant concern for the Sisters; funding the new school building was no less a source of anxiety.

In August 1956 five members of the Western Australian Lotteries Commission made a tour of inspection of recently completed improvements to the dining room and the newly built school room, and were entertained at morning tea. The annalist noted their approval of all that they had seen, but admitted to hoping for something more “concrete” than their good wishes.

Some time afterwards her hopes were rewarded:
Our Blessed Lady brought us a very uplifting surprise this morning, one we have been hoping for since the Lotteries Commission visited the new schoolroom etc – a cheque for $12,800-00. This has caused a sense of relief to our very honoured Mother’s heart…”

Not for the first time the Lotteries Commission had given welcome assistance for the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters, and it would be called on on several occasions throughout the life of the new school.

The new two-roomed building was located between the rear of the convent and the fence surrounding the laundry. It was soon put to use. Sister Mary of St Michael, who was responsible for a variety of organised sporting activities and learning for the younger residents of the Home, began early work there, teaching English and skills such as typing to the girls.

There would be some months delay before a designated teacher would be fully assigned to the school. On 4 March 1957 the Leederville annals recorded the arrival of the new Prioress for the Congregation who would take over from Mother Mary of St Clare, Mother Mary of the Archangels O’Connor.

Accompanying her from Melbourne to the convent (often referred to by the Sisters and other local people as “‘Tara”) was Sister Mary of St Leo Evans, the teacher designated to take responsibility for the new school.
Sister Mary of St Leo Evans has been missioned to this foundation. Sister, who is from Perth, left here ten years ago to make her novitiate. A gifted teacher, we feel deeply grateful to our very honoured mother Provincial for sacrificing her to “Tara” as we know how short of teachers all the houses are. Please God, Sister’s work in educating our teenagers will be faithfully blessed and her talents will steer many of them to the safe harbours of heaven.

Sister Patricia Evans

Sr Pat Evans

Sister Mary of St Leo Evans, later to be known as Sister Patricia Evans, had entered the order of the Good Shepherd in 1947, taking final vows in 1953.
Sister Patricia had gained her Teacher’s Certificate in Victoria.

In 1965 while Principal of St Clare’s School she would commence studying at the University of Western Australia for a Bachelor of Arts while continuing to manage the school. In her eighty-first year, Sister Patricia looked back on some of the important influences in her life, most of which has so closely followed the journey of St Clare’s School.

As a young woman she and several friends were members of the Young Catholic Girls movement in Western Australia. Through this, and through the contact with the group’s chaplain, Father Harold Lalor, she decided to follow a religious vocation. Sister Patricia did not see herself in teaching, and thus was not particularly attracted to any of the teaching orders.

She had even considered an approach to another congregation of Catholic nuns at first. However, one of her good friends had joined the Good Shepherd Sisters at Abbotsford, Victoria, and in correspondence told Sister Patricia of her good experience in joining the Order, encouraging her to come to the Melbourne to see for herself. Sister Patricia did this, and on finding herself impressed with the spiritual foundations and work of the Congregation, decided to join that way of life.

Although the Order ran a local school, St Euphrasie’s and a commercial college at Abbotsford, and in some of its other centres, its major work was not in teaching but in services to women. Nonetheless, Sister Patricia and others were encouraged by the Prioress, a woman who had had senior experience in education in Victoria, to gain her teaching qualification:
”she sent us to be trained, and sent us all over schools in Melbourne. She wanted us to be properly trained.”

This emphasis on appropriate qualifications and training for the Sisters was a recurring theme in the life of Sister Patricia, and of the Good Shepherd Sisters in general. At different times the Order would assign an experienced Sister to a different congregation to ascertain the needs for, and the means of achieving training for any of the Sisters.

Sister Patricia herself undertook such a role in the 1970s, taking her away from St Clare’s School. In the earlier days of the school she herself had adopted this approach to ensure that the skills and abilities of other Sisters at Leederville could be appropriately recognised and included in the work of the school.

Sister Patricia recalls her return from Melbourne: I was sent for from Melbourne –this is my home state – to get the school started. It had been built for about a dozen or so school-aged youngsters, a few as young as thirteen, who were being sent to the Home of the Good Shepherd. They were sent by the government welfare department, (and) by families

School within the Home

At the Home of the Good Shepherd there had already been some teaching of these younger girls and much activity aimed at providing them with new experiences and skills. For residents of all ages throughout the history of the Home the staging of concerts and plays, and showing hospitality to visitors was a regular occurrence; much work went into this as both recreation and a learning experience.

. Sister Patricia explained that the girls “didn’t come to a place where nothing was provided.” They were used to putting on concerts and musical productions and to being part of a combined effort.

These productions drew on the directing skills of Sisters such as Sister Mary of the Holy Innocents, and on the contributions and support of women in the Home known as auxiliaries, most of whom had come there many years earlier as younger women, and made their lives there.

The auxiliaries formed a distinct group

“with a dress of their own, a black dress with their own headgear, of white. They had a type of religious standing, and they had certain prayer times of their own.”

Each year they would renew their commitment to this role for a further twelve months, but be free to leave at the end of this period. They helped the Sisters in their responsibilities with the different groups of girls in their care, and in the day-to-day work of the Home.