In 1965-66 the Rubella epidemic increased the number of families who had babies and young children with a hearing impairment. There was no support and guidance for these families in the Sydney area and parents didn’t want to send their children to boarding school, so they asked the Dominican Sisters for help. In response to this request the Sisters commenced a Family Support and Early Intervention Program on these premises. Regardless of the family’s religious beliefs or ethnic background all young children with a hearing loss were, and still are, welcome to join the program.
When the Centre commenced in 1969, the program was solely for children with a loss but the next year it changed to adopt an integrated model. This integrated model continued until 1975 when a home-based program commenced.
The home-based program allowed the parents and teacher to work with the child on his/her individual goals in a familiar environment. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, parents would request that the individual session take place at the Centre instead of in the home. As well as the individual sessions, the parents were encouraged to bring all their preschool aged children to the weekly Playgroup. This provided an opportunity for the child with impaired hearing to mix socially with children of a similar age. Additionally, it gave the parents the support and encouragement of other parents facing similar problems. Parents were also encouraged to enrol their child in their local preschool.
The Centre continues to offer a family-based program. Our therapists visit children aged 0-18 months and their parents at home each week for Individual Therapy Sessions. Children 18 months-6 years and their parents come into the Centre for their Individual Therapy Sessions. Attendance at WAVES is also an integral part of the program. The year prior to starting school the children are encouraged to attend the Transition to School Group at the Centre. Parents continue to be encouraged to enrol their child at their local preschool.
WHO WAS CATHERINE SULLIVAN?
On 7th January 1859, a little girl with impaired hearing was born in the bush, at Swallow Creek, near Bathurst. When she was aged just seven, Catherine Sullivan was taken to Sydney to begin her education at the NSW Deaf and Dumb Institute, established by Thomas Pattison in that year, 1866.
Catherine’s family was Catholic, and at that time this institution was considered intolerant of the Catholic religion. Catherine Sullivan’s brothers were receiving a Catholic education so her father Patrick asked the then Bishop of Bathurst, Bishop Quinn, to provide a Catholic education for his daughter.
Meanwhile, Irish Dominican Sisters arrived in Maitland Australia in 1867 and opened a day school and a boarding school. At home in Dublin, these Sisters also had a well established tradition for teaching children with hearing-impairment. It made sense that Bishop Quinn should ask these Sisters to take Catherine into their boarding school so that she could receive her education in a Catholic environment that was sensitive to the needs of deaf people. The Sisters at St Mary’s gladly accepted Catherine as a student, at the beginning of 1872, but realized that the current Sisters did not have the training necessary to teach her in the way she needed. Consequently, Bishop Murray, the bishop of the Maitland Diocese, and M.M. Agnes Bourke, the prioress of the community, wrote to Ireland requesting that a sister trained to teach deaf children come to Australia, to establish a school for Catherine and other children in the colonies with a similar disability.
On 8th September 1875, Sister M. Gabriel Hogan, deaf herself, finally arrived in Maitland, and soon took up residence at “Star of the Sea” Dominican Convent Newcastle. Catherine Sullivan, now 16, was the first entry in the new school roll. With her and Sr M. Gabriel begins the history of Dominican Sisters and their provision of education for countless children with impaired hearing in Australia and New Zealand – a service which continues here in Strathfield 134 years later.
Catherine completed her schooling in 1878 and returned to her family in the country, but always continued her ties with the Sisters and students in Newcastle and later, Waratah. She died on 15th April 1922, aged 63.
Catherine and Sr. M. Gabriel would be proud to see the results of their efforts! They would be especially pleased to see that today’s Dominican Sisters heeded their example, and have been able to sponsor new needs in new times. Catherine would be delighted to have an early intervention program, which supports families, regardless of religious, financial or ethnic background, named after her.