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Notre Dame and Sydney

Expect a university that fits into its surroundings

By Damian Gleeson

Catholicity occupies a special position in Australian culture. The publicity surrounding rugby matches between St Joseph’s and St Ignatius, for example, has become as much a part of Sydney’s culture as the emphasis once given to the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade. In recent times rugby jousting has been eclipsed by the imminent arrival of a new university, Notre Dame. In a city whose culture and politics have been influenced in so many diverse ways by the alumni of large Catholic educational institutions, the addition of a considerably smaller organisation, with Australian Rules’ adherents, appears to have attracted a disproportionate amount of interest.

The questions about Notre Dame reflect a genuine interest in existing Catholic higher education organisations and a cautious approach towards something new. In discussions with both religious and lay people many seem unfamiliar with the ethos and objects of Notre Dame, despite its roots in the centuries old tradition of Catholic higher education.

Notre Dame Australia, most closely reflects the ethos of its namesake, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, which was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1842. Established under an Act of Parliament in Western Australia in 1989 the ‘objects’ of The University of Notre Dame Australia are ­the provision of university education, within a context of Catholic faith and values; and the provision of an excellent standard of teaching, scholarship and research; training for the professions; and pastoral care for its students.

From a humble beginning with less than 70 students in Fremantle, Notre Dame has grown to nearly 5,000 students, including a second campus at Broome. Notably, a substantial number of medical students at Fremantle are from Sydney and Melbourne. If our experiences in the West are a guide, Sydney's students will come from diverse religious, economic and social backgrounds. For example, some 40 per cent of current students are not Catholics.

The move to Sydney follows an invitation by the Cardinal Archbishop for Notre Dame to consider establishing a Campus for disciplines including law and medicine, neither of which was offered by other Catholic tertiary institutions. In addition Notre Dame Sydney from next year will offer courses in arts, business, education and nursing.

Reflecting the university’s Catholic ethos, undergraduate students, regardless of discipline or religion, will study the core units of Philosophy, Ethics and Theology.

Notre Dame’s presence in Sydney will be modest. In our foundation year we anticipate about 400 students studying at St Benedict’s Campus, Broadway. Within the context of the sprawling metropolis of Sydney, whose population exceeds 4.5 million people, Notre Dame is a very small player. Our students will be dwarfed by the 50,000 students who attend two neighbouring higher education organisations, the University of Technology and the University of Sydney.

In the health and medicine field Notre Dame’s values are closely aligned to the Mission of St Vincents & Mater Health Sydney (SV&MHS), based at Darlinghurst, North Sydney and Auburn. Notre Dame appreciates that the SV&MHS facilities have existing relationships with large, nationally respected, universities and SV&MHS is committed to maintaining these partnerships. Notre Dame will become a preferred partner of St Vincent’s and the two will offer a jointly-badged nursing course. Notre Dame’s physical presence at Darlinghurst will be attractive to nurses and will create synergies that enhance the St Vincent’s Campus.

By 2009 Notre Dame aims to have about 900 students on the Broadway Campus. The Sacred Heart Darlinghurst Campus is expected to commence in mid 2007 with about 150 nursing students. Medicine will commence in 2008. The Darlinghurst Campus will grow to about 800 students over seven years.Notre Dame will invest $16 million into the redevelopment of the Notre Dame Darlinghurst Campus, including the refurbishment of the historic Sacred Heart Church. At Broadway, the investment will be more than $7million. Both parishes, which were rundown, are being restored to their architectural heritage.

On both campuses our staff and students will form a close relationship with existing parishioners and the parish priests. It is in our interests to be engaging and supportive of the needs of both parishes. Already at St Benedict’s Broadway a good bond has developed between the Parish Priest, his community and foundation University staff. We trust this will also occur at Darlinghurst.

Notre Dame also seeks collaborative and co-operative relationships with other higher education organisations, including ACU National, the Catholic Institute of Sydney, the Broken Bay Institute and Campion College. Linkages between the various organisations are already in place and more are expected in the foreseeable future.

The ultimate test of Notre Dame Sydney will be its capacity to produce excellent well rounded graduates, who make a contribution in their chosen profession and to the broader community, including the Catholic Church.

Damian Gleeson is a lecturer and communications adviser to several organisations, including the University of Notre Dame Australia – Sydney Campus.


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