The title ‘Mary Help of Christians’ has a long history.
It has an association with times of war and great stress. Its traditional origin is the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 where it became part of the celebration to commemorate a victory by the fleets
of Venice and Genoa over the Turkish empire. It was enshrined in a prayer called the Litany of Loreto with which many grandparents would be familiar. It became better known in 1815. Seven years before, the Pope Pius VII had been arrested by Napoleon and imprisoned for several years not returning permanently to Rome till 1815 after the Battle of Waterloo when he made this a universal feast to celebrate the end his exile.
A little known fact of Australian history is that the Catholic Portuguese explorer, Pedro Ferdinandez de Quiros, landed on what he thought was Terra Australis Incognita on the eve of Pentecost 1606 and promptly renamed it the 'South Land of the Holy Spirit' dedicating it to Mary, Help of Christians. He had in fact landed on what is now Vanuatu.
At the time of Federation governments in Australia were promoting Empire Day to maintain our British allegiance in the wake of federation and the independent spirit it generated. They advocated raising the Union Jack on May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday, and singing ‘God Save the Queen’ to reinforce the link with Great Britain. Irish Catholics, in the sectarian spirit of the times, began calling it Australia Day because this was the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. They raised the new Australian flag with its Southern Cross next to the Union Jack and some say they also sang ‘Advance Australia Fair’ instead of ‘God Save the Queen’.
The infant church in Australia had a special reason for turning to Mary. No priests were sent to the colony in its early days and Mass was not allowed except for one brief year until 1820. It was largely the Rosary in those early days that kept the faith alive.
The Australian Catholic community remained faithful to Mary and Australia was the first nation to choose her under the title, 'Mary Help of Christians' as principle Patroness.
Australia also became the first country to have a cathedral dedicated in Our Lady, Mary's name. St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney was dedicated in her honour by the Irish pioneer priest, Fr John Therry who arrived in Sydney in 1820.
The constellation of the Southern Cross has always been associated with Australia and the Catholic school begun in 1922 by the Sisters of St Joseph on the site of the present car park next to the Redcliffe Museum on Anzac Avenue was called ‘Our Lady Help of Christians’.
So when Southern Cross was chosen to be part of our College name, the obvious Patron was ‘Mary, Help of Christians’. This has become part of our culture ever since and we celebrate it as our Annual Patron’s Day on school closest to May 24 occurs each year.