Our History

Origins of The John Berne School

In 1975 a number of teachers at Benedict College Auburn, a Catholic school operated by the Marist Brothers, were concerned that the traditional secondary subjects and timetable did not meet the needs of a number of boys. These boys lacked interest in the mainly theoretical subjects of the school and so they experienced problems with teachers and parents and had issues with attendance, motivation and school performance. These teachers dreamed of an alternative school that was less structured and focused on practical subjects and the gaining of employment. A special class was formed. After some time, this small and special part of Benedict College Auburn became independent of the main school and was known as the Benedict Community School (BCS).  

A report of BCS noted that their students were characterised by one or more of the following issues:

  • mild to severe learning difficulties
  • functional illiteracy
  • inability to participate in mainstream schooling due to a mismatch of school and home values
  • students caught in family dysfunction
  • personality disorders and developmental problems.

In 1976 BCS moved to the nearby suburb of Silverwater. It conducted classes which emphasised basic skills and job readiness, access to day work placements and work experience, along with life skills. In 1979 the school instituted double shift classes. This innovation allowed students to attend school classes in either the morning or afternoon and then also attend work placements during the alternative part of the day. This program admitted boys in Years 7 to 10 who found conventional schooling did not meet their needs. In 1983 BCS became a school for students in Years 9 and 10 only. In 1988 BCS moved to Hurlstone Park occupying premises belonging to Hurlstone Park parish. It remained there until the end of 1994 then relocated to Lewisham to the site of St Thomas Boys High School which closed in 1997. This move was a short term strategy as the decision was taken to close BCS at the end of 1996. Up until this time the school had been operating under the Catholic Education Office Sydney with their financial support. The school remained open for the two years of 1995 and 1996 to allow current students to complete their schooling.

Berne Education Centre

The Marist Brothers continued to be concerned for the needs of students who struggle to cope in a mainstream school setting and determined to open an Independent Catholic school. The Catholic Education Office Sydney agreed to this new school using the St Thomas Boys High School site at Lewisham. 

In 1997 Br Michael Flanagan was appointed as the founding Principal of this new school named Berne Education Centre which enrolled its first students in 1998. From the beginning the school was a collaborative effort between Brothers and dedicated lay Marists. The school was endorsed as a Catholic Special School and received funding provided through the Catholic Education Commission.

The model for the Berne Education Centre was a school for students who were not able to access education in a mainstream school. While not only for students from Catholic schools, the students predominantly had Catholic school backgrounds. From the beginning, both male and female students were enrolled. The majority of students were enrolled in Years 9 and 10, and the goals were to prepare them to achieve the School Certificate and to acquire a post school position of useful employment or further education. The school also originally offered a Year 8 program of one term duration. 

In 2008 the Years 7 –10 school was renamed The John Berne School to better characterise its primary role of education.

The John Berne School takes the story of Jean-Baptiste Berne (John Berne), Marcellin Champagnat, and the early Marist Brothers as its inspiration. The John Berne School exists to help and reach out to young people, just as Marcellin and the early Marist Brothers did for Jean-Baptiste Berne.

Jean-Baptiste Berne

Jean-Baptiste Berne was a young man who lived in France in the times of Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Marist Brothers. Jean-Baptiste Berne was a very troubled young man. When Marcellin Champagnat met him, Jean-Baptiste was in a terrible situation, an orphan with no one to care for him and facing life on the streets. Marcellin took him in, cared for him and provided an education. For much of this time in the care of Marcellin and the early Marist Brothers, Jean-Baptise was a difficult youth. He was rude, rebellious, used abusive and insulting language to those who cared for him, he stole, ran away, and was ungrateful and unresponsive to efforts to help him. Eventually, the care and love of Marcellin and the early Brothers broke through his barriers, overcame his past experiences and distrust. Jean-Baptise Berne became in time a caring and generous person, who eventually joined the brothers as Br Nilamon. Sadly he died of tuberculosis in Marcellin’s arms while quite young.

Saint Marcellin Champagnat

Marcellin Champagnat was born in a relatively poor and underdeveloped part of rural France in 1879, the same year the French Revolution began. He died 6th June 1840, with the 6th of June being celebrated around the world as the feast of Marcellin. He was canonised as a Saint in the Catholic Church in 1999.

Berne School Principals

Br Michael Flanagan fms 1997 – 2007
Br Darren Burge fms 2008 – 2013
Br Mark Paul fms 2014 – 2017
Mr Richard Sidorko 2018 – 2019
Mr James Le Huray 2019 – current

The Marist Brothers

The Marist Brothers are a world-wide religious order of the Catholic Church. The Marist Brothers are an Institute of religious men. Marist Brothers do not marry, and they devote their lives under the vows of Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience to living a community life and serving God’s people in educational works. The Marist Brothers’ work can be schools or universities, in developed countries and in developing countries, working with young people, young adults and older adults.

Marist Brothers live in communities. Each community has Brothers appointed to it who conduct their work for the good of the Church and God’s people. Marist communities are organised into Provinces, which are geographic collections of Brothers. Provinces elect a leader, the Provincial who is responsible with his council for the management of the works of the Brothers and Brothers’ lives. In Rome is the General Administration of the Marist Brothers which coordinates the international efforts of the Brothers as well as relates to Church structures and the Roman Congregations of the organisational structure of the Catholic Church.