Dom Leo opens new building at Rosebank College, Sydney

Dom Leo Maidlow Davis visited Sydney recently to open a new building, Downside Hall, at Rosebank College.

Dr Paul O’Shea, Dean of Mission writes “Over two hundred years separate the monastery that John Bede Polding knew as his home and community and the building that stands on the site of the colonial house that Polding knew as a place of quiet and calm, on the outskirts of Sydney Town. Downside Abbey and Downside Hall share a common bond through the life and witness of Australia’s first Catholic bishop, the “saint in saddleback”, the father and founder of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Downside Abbey and Downside Hall also share a common bond through the presence in our community of Dom Leo Maidlow Davis and the Downside students Humphrey Francis-Jones and Luke Freely. And most important of all the bonds that joins us is our shared Benedictine heritage founded on the legacy of St Benedict and his great love of Jesus Christ.

In his homily, Archbishop Fisher paid eloquent tribute to the Benedictine legacy given to Rosebank through Polding, Mother Scholastica Gibbons and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Archbishop Fisher, eighth successor to Archbishop Polding also reminded us of John Bede’s compassion and courage to speak for those with no voice, his evangelical zeal to seek out those on the margins, while all the time living in close companionship with Christ, preferring nothing to Christ’s love and placing it above all else. 

Dom Leo also spoke with great affection for John Bede Polding, Benedictine and Bishop, and for the community he founded in Sydney. What lingered longest for me though was his mention of the window of St Anne and Our Lady, in the Chapel. It is a window I have looked at many times; but it took Dom Leo’s words to help me see it again. He said that it was a beautiful image of St Anne not only teaching her daughter how to read, but the pen in her hand, suggests that Anne was teaching Mary to write. In a school for girls, as Rosebank was, the image of St Anne teaching the future Mother of God is powerful and challenging, not only for the late-nineteenth century, but for our day and age. And not only is it a powerful affirmation of the goodness of girls’ education, but it is also a wonderful depiction of Lectio Divina – the pondering of God’s word and the absorption of that word into our hearts and lives. Finally, incorporated into the ceremony was the handing of the Polding Altar Stone from Dom Leo, through the Archbishop to College student leaders. On 17 March 1880 the parish of St Anne’s Strathfield South, presented an altar to Rosebank for installation in the newly completed chapel. There was a story behind this particular altar.

When he left Downside in 1834 the newly consecrated Bishop Polding took with him an altar that he could use on board the ship for Mass. In the altar was a marble stone. The altar and its stone remained in Polding’s care until he had it moved to the Refuge of the Good Shepherd in preparation for the founding of a new religious community. It was before this altar that the original community of sisters had made their religious profession in 1857. At some point afterwards the altar and stone was sent to the parish of St Anne’s Strathfield South before it came to Rosebank. And there it remained until 1966. During the renovations of the chapel after Vatican II it was discovered that the Polding altar was riddled with termites and had to be destroyed. The Altar stone was carefully removed and put away. In preparation for the Opening Ceremony, the stone was mounted in a frame and will be placed in the chapel as a recognition of our past and a celebration of our present”.