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Sr Mary Dalton: Brigidine Sister and Principal of Kilbreda College

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Sr Mary Dalton, Principal of Kilbreda College, Mentone 1985-1995. Courtesy Damian Smith, Kingston Collection.

Sr Mary Dalton was professed as a Brigidine Sister in 1957. Born at Horsham in 1939, to Austin (the local dentist) and Claire (an accomplished musician and teacher), Mary had two sisters and two brothers. She lived all of her early life in the Wimmera, where she developed her love for the Australian bush. Mary was educated at Horsham by the Brigidines and later graduated from Melbourne University.

Following her Profession, she lived and taught at Geelong, Ararat and St Joseph’s Wangaratta, which was her first appointment as Principal. After a short period at Killester, Mary went to Adelaide in 1976, where the Brigidines had established a secondary school at Holden Hill and a primary school at Windsor Gardens. Mary’s experience in senior English and History saw her appointed to St Ignatius Jesuit College at Athelstone where she taught middle and senior school English, Year 12 Australian History and later Year 10 Religious Education over a period of seven years. “Teaching was what Mary loved doing and she did it exceptionally well. Her real interest was in trying to make her students make the most of their talents”, living out the Brigidine core value of : “engendering a love of learning, hope and sense of purpose”. [1] In Adelaide, in addition to assisting the deputy Headmaster Mr Flynn, Mary trained students in debating and stage managed most of the Drama Group’s productions, selling tickets, working backstage and ‘cajoling support’ for the shows. Mary was also responsible for overseeing a Book Exchange Program, a role which continued at Kilbreda. Mary’s expertise was greatly missed when she was transferred by her Provincial at the end of 1983. Mary spent 1984 studying at Regis Theological College in Toronto prior to beginning her time as Principal of Kilbreda, Mentone.

One of her early achievements was the building of a hall. This was done with the assistance of a parent, Mr Guilieri, who drew the plans. The former hall, was to be converted to a smaller theatrette and two classrooms. Completed in 1985, the Hall has been used as a multi-purpose space for sporting activities, assemblies, parent-teacher-student interviews and other meetings. In 1996, in her honour, it was renamed the Mary Dalton Hall.

In 1987, Sr Mary welcomed the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke to Kilbreda. “The PM’s visit on 8 April 1987 was a most successful and exciting event. Firstly, visiting the combined Years 11 & 12 Politics class, Mr Hawke and local member David Charles and entourage, climbed the tower, signed the visitor’s book and planted a tree. Students from St Bede’s College and Mordialloc, Beaumaris and Parkdale High schools, joined Kilbreda students in the Kilbreda Hall where College Captain, Moira Scanlon, welcomed Mr Hawke, He then spoke to the assembly about the importance of young people continuing their education for as long as possible and on nuclear arms and disarmament as well as responding to questions.” Later, he joined the senior students on the back oval for a volleyball match, with TV News reports claiming he was ‘mobbed by hysterical girls!’ Mr Hawke was accompanied on his visit round the school by Principal, Sr Mary Dalton.” [2] [3]

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Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, walking in grounds of Kilbreda College, Mentone with Sr Mary Dalton on his right. Courtesy Damian Smith, Kingston Collection.

In 1994, Sr Mary responded to the need to refurbish Kilbreda’s landmark tower, which had stood over the Mentone shopping centre for more than a century. Water and other damage, including damage to the timberwork by cockatoos, had resulted in the need for a makeover. Scaffolding was erected for some months and eventually the tower was rendered suitable for a further century’s use.

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Kilbreda College Tower, 2000. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

Each year, the Year 11 students were received by Sr Mary and Year 11 Coordinator Anne Hoyne at the Debutante balls in the Kilbreda Hall. Whenever a drama production or Rock Eisteddfod was being prepared, Mary would be present working on the lighting, and travelling with the group to make sure all went according to plan.

Perhaps her greatest joy in life, though, was watching her beloved Melbourne Football team play. She went to games on many occasions with current staff member, Tony Mangan, and others who shared her affinity with the club.

“Those who knew her well also remember her enormous kindness to those in trouble of any kind. She was committed to social justice of the most basic kind – to supporting the ‘most vulnerable’. Many students and their families were supported without anyone else ever knowing about it.” [4]

Early in 1994, Mary informed the staff that she had been diagnosed with cancer in a typically stoic manner. Mary missed very little of 1994 at Kilbreda, but relied heavily on her deputies Carmel Smart and Denise Leonard. By the beginning of 1995, Mary was very ill and spent many weeks at Bethlehem Hospital where she died on 7 March 1995.

The following day, acting Principal Mrs Carmel smart announced her death to students and staff and a liturgy was held to celebrate her life and the wonderful contribution she had made to Kilbreda.

Mary’s funeral mass was celebrated at St Brigid’s Mordialloc, two doors from the home she had shared with Srs Clare, Paulinus, Maree, Majella and Benedicta. All of the staff, along with many Brigidines, members of Mary’s family including her mother Claire, and many friends, were in attendance. Senior students from Kilbreda formed a guard of honour, and a number of students and parents also attended. Many also attended her burial at the Cheltenham Pioneers’ Cemetery.

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St Brigid’s Church, Mordialloc, c1980. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

At the unveiling of a portrait of Sr Mary, her long time friend and colleague Sr Catherine Kelly told the school community of “this very significant woman in the life of this college” and of her importance in carrying on “the traditions in the spirit of St Brigid which were established from the very beginning at Kilbreda. It is fitting that his portrait of this strong and gentle woman hands in this hall which carries her name and in which so much good educational activity takes place. May she be remembered for a long time by all of us.” [5]

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Portrait of Sr Mary Dalton. Artist Andrew Whisson. Courtesy Andrew Whisson.


Damian Smith


  1. Kelly, Catherine, Reflections on the life of Sr Mary Dalton, Kilbreda, Brigidine Day 19 September 2008.
  2. Dixon, Bob, Kilbreda Annual 1987.
  3. See, Smith, Damian, The Day the Prime Minister of Australia Visited , Kingston Historical Website.
  4. Kelly, Catherine. op cit.
  5. Kelly, Catherine. op cit.

Category: People
Reference Number: 535
Date Created: 12/08/2012
Date Revised: 11/04/2014

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