Long before technical education came on the scene in Gunnedah, many well-known local residents gained their business skills at an education centre in the grounds of St Mary’s College.

Sister Vincent’s Business College was established by a remarkable Sister of Mercy who pioneered commercial education in Gunnedah and provided a unique pathway for anyone interested in a career that required the skills of typing, shorthand, economics or accountancy.

Sr Mary Vincent Egan was a compelling figure in the community as her wonderful work was carried out under the burden of profound deafness. How she was able to achieve such outstanding results was a source of amazement to everyone.

Born on August 18, 1885, at Gundagai, Mary Egan was the eldest of nine children of William and Mary Egan. In 1898, the family moved to the property, Rosewood, at Emerald Hill, where she grew up with her siblings and boarded at St Mary’s College. She entered the Gunnedah Convent in December 1905. Mary was given the name of Sister Mary Vincent on her profession as a Sister of Mercy in July 1908.

Two other Egan sisters also entered the convent with Ellen taking the religious name of Sr Mary Raymond after her religious profession at Singleton, but sadly she died in 1912, just a few short months later. Another sister Johannah, known in religion as Sister Mary Alphonsa (later Alphonsus) taught in many Catholic schools around the diocese and died in 1972 at the age of 75.

During a religious life of 54 years, Sister Mary Vincent taught at convent schools in Inverell, Moree, Narrabri and Deepwater and for 37 years at St Mary’s College, mainly in her specialty subject, economics, as well as in commercial and secretarial studies.

Sr Vincent pictured in the traditional Mercy habit of the day.

As the founder of the Gunnedah Business College at St Mary’s, Sr Vincent became well known in the town in an era where the Sisters focussed on their teaching and religious life, dressed in the traditional black habits of the Sisters of Mercy worldwide.

In 1951, at an age when most people think of retiring, Sr Vincent was preparing to tackle another Leaving Certificate subject, accountancy. In 1954 when the Leaving Certificate Honours course in economics was introduced, Sister Vincent studied the requirements and prepared herself for the specialised nature of the work. The Leaving Certificate results bore testimony to her teaching at honours level. Such was her reputation, that progressive businessmen in Gunnedah would ask for her advice regarding recruitment of staff for their offices.

Sr Vincent’s father William was highly regarded in the Gunnedah area, he was one of the first to grow wheat in the district and had a wide knowledge of land and stock values. He died in 1931 and was survived by his wife and seven of his nine children. Sr Vincent’s mother Ellen died in 1938 – two sons William and Matthew had predeceased her, dying suddenly just 13 months apart. The greatest tragedy for the family, however, was the death in 1918 of their daughter Annie at the North Head Quarantine Centre where she was nursing soldiers who had contracted the deadly Spanish Flu. A public outcry spread across Sydney when the devout Catholic was refused a visit from her priest as she lay dying.

Looking back over her life on her 90th birthday last year, Gunnedah’s Doreen McCoy recalled her studies with Sr Vincent. As part of the curriculum at St Mary’s College, Doreen learned typing, shorthand, and business principles, which stood her in good stead when she left school and was offered a position at Green and Conti, one of the biggest accountancy firms in town at the time.

Another former student of Sr Vincent was the late Bill Clegg MBE, who was an integral part of the business and wider Gunnedah community and became mayor. In an interview back in 1996, Bill spoke with fondness of his classes with Sr Vincent and never forgot her motto in Business Principles: “Time lost in business, is money lost.”

Born in 1927, Gloria Reading attended Sr Vincent’s Business College during her third and fourth year at Gunnedah Intermediate High School and put these skills to great use when she gained employment as a secretary with Gunnedah Municipal Council. Gloria later became bookkeeper for business ventures with her husband George. In later life she was treasurer for the St Vincent de Paul centre where she was also involved in budget counselling.

One of the best-known members of the Sisters of Mercy order in the northwest, Sister Mary Vincent Egan died after a short illness on June 22, 1960, aged 74, and was laid to rest in the Sisters of Mercy graveyard at St Mary’s College, while her parents are buried in the Hunter Street Cemetery and her sister Annie lies in a lonely grave at North Head Quarantine Centre.

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