We’re a young university built on centuries of Catholic tradition, both in Australia and around the world. Get the full story of ACU, from our antecedent founding colleges to the thriving campuses of today.

A brief history of ACU

Australian Catholic University (ACU) was opened on 1 January 1991 following the amalgamation of four Catholic tertiary institutions in eastern Australia:

  • Catholic College of Education Sydney in New South Wales
  • Institute of Catholic Education in Victoria
  • McAuley College of Queensland
  • Signadou College of Education in the Australian Capital Territory.

These institutions had their origins in the mid-1800s, when religious orders and institutes became involved in preparing teachers for Catholic schools and, later, nurses for Catholic hospitals.

Through a series of amalgamations, relocations, transfers of responsibilities and diocesan initiatives, more than 20 historical entities have contributed to the creation of the University.

University memberships

The University is a member of the publicly-funded national system of Australian universities, the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor is a member of Universities Australia.

 

History of our campuses

Each of ACU’s seven campuses has its own local story to tell. Find out more by viewing the history of each ACU site around Australia and Rome. 

Adelaide Campus (St Francis of Assisi) timeline

  • 2013: The Adelaide Campus was established when ACU and the Archdiocese of Adelaide entered a partnership to deliver theological education in South Australia. The Catholic Theological College (Adelaide) was absorbed into ACU's Faculty of Theology and Philosophy and moved from Brooklyn Park to George Street, Thebarton.
  • 2014: ACU began offering degrees out of Adelaide, including the Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies, Graduate Diploma in Theological Studies, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Philosophy.
 

Ballarat Campus (Aquinas) timeline

  • 1881: Cornish miner Cyrus Retallac built his family home, a two-storey mansion set in the historic gardens of Carn Brea.
  • 1909: The Ballarat East Sisters of Mercy established the Aquinas Training College. It later became known as Sacred Heart Training College because of its close association
  • with the secondary school of that name in Ballarat East.
  • 1919: The Queen's Church of England Girls' Grammar School acquired the property, renaming the mansion Manifold House. (Manifold House now accommodates administrative facilities of the campus and staff offices.)
  • Mid-1960s: Faced with increasing enrolments and the demands of a growing school population, the College moved to Patrician House in Victoria Street, Ballarat.
  • 1973: The Sisters of St John of God, conductors of a nearby hospital, purchased a property at 1200 Mair Street, until then the Queen's Church of England Girls' Grammar School. 
  • 1974: The property is purchased by the Diocese of Ballarat, and it becomes the new site of the Catholic teachers' college (initially known as Aquinas College). During this time, the Institute of Catholic Education gained control of Victoria’s Catholic teachers’ colleges and became a constituent member of the State College of Victoria.
  • 1980: While initially focusing on primary teacher education for Catholic schools, the Institute expanded its course offering to include accredited courses in post primary education, nursing, religious education, church music, educational administration, guidance and welfare, educational studies and multicultural studies. The Institute was federally funded, a fully accredited College of Advanced Education, and offered nationally recognised awards.
  • 1990: The Institute formally hands responsibility for the Institute and its operations to ACU.
 

Brisbane Campus (McAuley at Banyo) timeline

  • 1955: The Sisters of Mercy formed McAuley College for the preparation of Sisters of Mercy to teach in Catholic schools. Members from other religious orders were soon included.
  • 1973: The College began admitting lay-students. During this time, state government accreditation of courses, national registration of awards, and federal funding as a non-government teachers' college all helped establish McAuley College as a Catholic institute of higher education in Queensland.
  • 1990: The Council of McAuley College formally handed responsibility for the college and its operations to ACU.
  • 2003: The Brisbane Campus is established in Banyo, replacing the former campus at Mitchelton. The 40-hectare site was formerly the Pius XII Provincial Seminary, with a history extending back to 1863.
 

Canberra Campus (Signadou) timeline

  • Early history: The name Signadou derives from a legend associated with Dominic de Guzman, who founded the Dominican Order in the 13th century. Praying for guidance in his life's work, Dominic was given a "sign of God" (Signe de Dieu) directing him to teach the truth throughout the university towns of Europe. Following the tradition of Dominic, the Dominican Sisters assumed the work of education and established schools and colleges in five continents.
  • 1867: In response to the invitation of the Catholic Bishops, the Sisters came to Australia from Ireland and England and established their first school in Maitland, New South Wales.
  • 1926: The Teacher Training College for Dominican Sisters was founded in Maitland.
  • 1955: Following the devastating Hunter Valley floods, the College was relocated to Sydney.
  • Late-1950s: The Major Superiors of the religious orders of women in Australia, in a move to centralise and rationalise their teacher training, asked the Dominican order to admit sisters of other religious orders to their College. The Dominicans agreed and the College was moved to Canberra.
  • 1963: The College was opened by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.
  • 1990: The Signadou Dominican College of Education formally handed responsibility for the College and its operations to ACU.
  • 2004: ACU, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, acquires Blackfriars. Blackfriars is renovated to house house staff and students, the offices of the Catholic welfare agency Centacare Canberra and Goulburn, and the Institute of Child Protection Studies. 
  • 2005: Blackfriars was officially opened by ACT Liberal senator Gary Humphries. Described as a new “welfare hub” for the community, Blackfriars has helped ACU researchers, students and staff work in partnership with other key organisations to improve the lives and prospects of children and adults in Canberra, Goulburn and beyond. 

Melbourne Campus (St Patrick’s) timeline

  • 1873: The Exhibition Boot Factory is built in the heart of Fitzroy. The factory turns out footwear for nearly 30 years.
  • 1902: The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Thomas Joseph Carr, purchased the factory.
  • 1903: The Boot Factory was refurbished by Archbishop Carr to provide the Catholic community with class, club and meeting rooms.
  • 1904-1908: Two adjacent properties to the Boot Factory were purchased. Built on these sites were Central Hall and a supper room. Central Hall, once also known as Cathedral Hall, was then connected to the Boot Factory to provide foyer, cloakroom, ticket office and club room facilities. This complex of buildings then served the local Catholic and wider community as a venue for concerts, lectures, meetings and socials, and provided nearby Catholic schools with an assembly hall.
  • 1975-1990: The Victorian Institute of Catholic Education operated two colleges, Mercy and Christ.
  • 1990: ACU is founded, with Mercy and Christ becoming ACU’s two Melbourne campuses.
  • 2000: Mercy and Christ were formally amalgamated to create the Melbourne Campus at Fitzroy (incorporating Central Hall). 
  • 2002: Central Hall gained state heritage listing. From that point, ACU embarked on a restoration program to return the complex back to its former glory.
  • 2005: The restored supper room, with a contribution from the National Institute of Youth Performing Arts, was reopened alongside a fully restored and renovated Boot Factory, which provided office and teaching space.
  • 2007: Central Hall was restored and reopened. The project was made possible through generous contributions from the Ian Potter Foundation and the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The magnificently restored hall can now provide space for music and drama students and community groups and is a focal point for the intellectual and cultural life of ACU.

North Sydney (MacKillop) timeline

  • 1880s: Having founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph in South Australia in 1866, Mary MacKillop moved to a cottage in Mount Street, North Sydney. 
  • 1913: The Sisters established a training school at North Sydney for the teacher training of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
  • 1958: The College began admitting lay students.
  • 1971: The College becomes the Catholic Teachers’ College.
  • 1982: The College became part of the Catholic College of Education. It was at this stage that the name MacKillop was given to this campus to identify it as a discrete part of the College and to recognise the ongoing support of the Sisters of St Joseph.
  • 1990: The Catholic College of Education Sydney formally handed over responsibility for the College and its operations to ACU.

Strathfield (Mount Saint Mary) timeline

  • 1886: Three joint tenants of land belonging to the St James Church of England built a large country mansion called Mount Royal.
  • 1903-1904: Following the passing of the three tenants, Mount Royal hosted various occupants, including the Rt Hon Sir George Houston Reid, Premier of New South Wales from 1894 to 1899 and Prime Minister of Australia from 1904 until 1905.
  • 1907: The property was acquired by the Christian Brothers and became the centre of the Christian Brothers Congregation for Australia and New Zealand. The Brothers also acquired two adjoining properties.
  • 1908: Mount Saint Mary College was inaugurated for the training of teaching monks. 
  • 1974: The first male lay students were enrolled in the College.
  • 1975: The Diploma in Primary/Junior Secondary Teaching was approved as a course in Advanced Education.
  • 1980: A Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Studies, Pastoral Guidance was introduced. Approval was also obtained for a joint Bachelor of Education with Polding College.
  • 1981: The Federal Government required specified Colleges in each State to amalgamate. 
  • 1982: Catholic Teachers' College, Polding College and Mount Saint Mary College amalgamated to become Catholic College of Education Sydney.
  • 1990: The Catholic College of Education Sydney formally handed responsibility for the College and its operations to ACU.
  • 1993: The Christian Brothers sold 5-8 hectares of the property to the Diocese of Sydney, who hold the property in trust on behalf of ACU.
  • 2002: ACU purchased the Our Lady of Loreto Nursing Home from the St Vincent de Paul Society. The building was extensively developed and renamed after ACU’s Foundation Chancellor, His Eminence Cardinal Edward Clancy AC.
 

Rome Campus history

Our Rome Campus is a joint initiative between ACU and the Catholic University of America (CUA). It brings together the leading Catholic universities in the United States and Australia in a joint academic endeavor in Rome.

This collaboration builds upon our prior relationship with CUA, providing opportunities for respective students to study in Australia or Washington, DC. Students from both universities can take advantage of the unique opportunity to study in Rome.

Historical location

Located two kilometres from Vatican City, our Rome Campus has a rich history. The building dates to 1962-63, and noted Italian architect Giò Ponti had a hand in its design. 

It was originally built for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, replacing a family villa that was on the site. The property provided sanctuary to some Jewish families during the Nazi era. ACU and CUA continue this legacy by hosting an annual lecture series on Jewish-Christian dialogue as part of the lease agreement with the Sisters of Sion.

The campus is located at Via Garibaldi 28, on the Janiculum Hill, just above the ancient Roman neighborhood of Trastevere. 

Trastevere was the only neighborhood west of the Tiber River that was included in the old city of Rome. It was the centre of the Jewish population in Rome in the first and second centuries, and also became a centre for early Christian life. 

The campus is at the far western edge of the old city and was included in the walls built around the city in the third century by the Emperor Aurelian. It is a 10-minute walk from the campus to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, the main square of the neighborhood.

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and ACU

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and the Sisters of Saint Joseph have a historic connection with our predecessor colleges. 

Find out more about St Mary MacKillop’s special significance for ACU and meet the University’s other patrons.

Meet our patrons

 

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