Historic Naracoorte convent saved from developers

A retired Sister of Mercy has joined hundreds of Naracoorte locals in a successful campaign to prevent the bulldozing of the historic former La Eurana convent in the small South Australian town.

The ABC reports that hundreds of people took to streets to oppose the Council-approved demolition of the 103-year-old convent building to make way for a $3 million shopping centre expansion.

Right through the early- and mid-20th century, the La Eurana convent was a home for those Sisters of Mercy who had moved to Naracoorte to teach in the order's local school.

According to The Advertiser Adelaide-based Perks Property Investments called off the demolition of the building at the last minute and decided to hold further talks with the council before a final decision was made.

The building may be saved for good with the council now to consider buying the property to safeguard its future.

Protesters held vigils and formed a human chain along the entrance of the two storey stone building.

For the activists who successfully saved the convent this week, there was no shortage of schoolroom memories.

"The nuns were absolutely fabulous and gorgeous and wonderful teachers," remembers Gwladys McTernan, who sent her children to the Sisters' school.

"I think any child that went to that school would remember the nuns with great affection and love and the teaching was absolutely fabulous. A lot of these kids went on to be university students, they were taught so well."

For Marianne White, whose husband and children went to the school, one of the fondest memories is the school concerts. "The nuns just put in so much time. Every year, there was something that was just a real classic, they were wonderful."

From the street, the convent looks quite elegant. But things were quite different on the inside.

Anne Nolan's husband was taught piano at the convent: "His memory is that it was a very stark place. The inside decorations were very plain. Obviously there wasn't much money spent on things like lush curtains or furniture and he remembers things very stark.

"I think that is just an indication that things were pretty frugal in La Eurana house for the nuns. But obviously they did a wonderful job."

This frugalness also spread to the basics - nuns had only one small oven to try and heat the entire building. And food was never guaranteed.

"The nuns were really, really poor," remembers Maureen Fennell, who went on to be a teacher thanks to her education at the school. "They needed a lot of support from the Catholic community.

"I was secretary of their mother's club and just before the nuns were about to go on their Christmas break the head sister came and asked us could we raise some money with a trading table because they were unable to pay the baker for the bread that had been booked.

"It just shows that they really did live in lives of great privation."

La Eurana's last surviving nun is Sister Loyola. She was transferred to Naracoorte in 1972 and was there for what became the last two years of the convent.

Loyola shared the convent with only one other nun and it was perhaps inevitable that the school and convent was closed down.

She says she love to see fine old buildings, and not just the church ones, in Naracoorte. "I travelled through Naracoorte not so very long ago on the bus and I had a look across at the building and was very pleased to see it there still," she said.

Saviour sought, nun found (ABC South East SA 14/7/06)
Human chain help save heritage (The Advertiser 11/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sisters of Mercy
Naracoorte Lucindale Council

Peninsula convent sold as Melbourne Mercies rationalise (CathNews 4/6/04)

17 Jul 2006