Sister Carmel Bourke

Principal: 1945 – 1953

Elma Bourke became a boarder at St Aloysius College in 1920 as a second year high school student. She remained as a boarder for seven years but was only a part of the college for three years. The other four years were spent at Adelaide High School. She remained at SAC as what was known as a ‘parlour boarder’ while at Adelaide High and then Adelaide Teachers’ College.

After Teachers’ College, she taught for four years for the South Australian Department of Education and boarded privately. Entering the Convent in February 1931, she became known as Sr Carmel Bourke and went straight into the teaching apostolate. Although trained as an Early Childhood teacher, Sr Carmel was appointed to the secondary staff.

In that era, the Sisters were not allowed to study at Adelaide University (by Convent regulation), but as Sr Carmel had only two more subjects to complete her Bachelor of Arts, she was allowed to do so. Sr Carmel taught at SAC until February, 1945 when she was appointed principal of the college. She remained in this position until 1953 when made the Convent Superior.

(Sr Carmel Bourke, St Aloysius College Archives)
(Sr Carmel Bourke and Sr Judy Redden, St Aloysius College Archives)

Her principalship coincided with the post war development of South Australia. There was a great influx of migrants into the state, many of whom wanted to send their daughters to SAC.  The college opened its doors generously to accommodate the children of the migrant families with the result that SAC was soon bursting at the seams. The crisis hastened on a project that had been engaging the sisters for some years – the need to move the boarding school out of the city into a more spacious and appropriate environment. The result was Mercedes College, which opened in 1954. In 1948, Sr Carmel was honoured by an Order of the British Empire in recognition of her leadership of the school’s support for victims of World War Two, especially children and refugees.

After the exodus of boarders, the dormitories and facilities were prepared as classrooms and other areas such as science and art. From this time onwards, Sr Carmel’s task was to oversee the establishment of SAC as a day school in its own right. This she did successfully until 1953 when made Superior of the Adelaide congregation. In later years, Sr Carmel became Superior of Mercedes Convent and school principal. She returned to SAC in 1969 and taught as a full- time member of staff until 1972. Sr Carmel was a gifted choir director, singer and pianist as well as a lover of the arts. The College Expressive Arts Building was named in her honour.

By Neville Stapleton
Archivist, St Aloysius College, 2020