Founders moving House

Des McKenna with son Paddy and grandson Tom the day he started in Year 7 at St Francis Xavier College in Berwick, continuing a proud family tradition.

By Garry Howe

The family of a St Francis Xavier College founding father is disappointed a proposed change to House names will erase his legacy.

Des McKenna is credited as sowing the seeds that led to the formation of a Catholic secondary college in the region and worked to make that vision a reality with help from the likes of Monsignor John Gallagher.

Both were recognised with House names in 1995 and Mons Gallagher, Des and his wife Carmel are among the college’s 13 Living Treasures.

The process of discernment for possible new House names at St Francis Xavier College began early this year, primarily to strengthen focus on its Catholic identity.

When approached by the Gazette about the proposal, members of the McKenna family expressed their disappointment at the move and also the lack of consultation.

Damien McKenna, a partner at Duffy and Simon Lawyers in Pakenham, wrote to the school and the Sale Diocese in March and said he had not yet received an explanation.

“As a family, we are extremely disappointed that there was no consultation at all with our family regarding the proposed change,” Mr McKenna said.

“We have had no response from a letter written by our entire family in March to the CEO of the Diocese of Sale Catholic Education office, the entity being the entity quoted by the College as a driver of the change.

“The family has requested that consideration be given to retaining the name of McKenna House, and if this was not going to occur how both Mum and Dad’s contribution would be recognised moving forward.”

Mr McKenna said the move came as a blow to their 87-year-old mother, who is still mourning her husband.

“They never did it for recognition, they just wanted to create opportunities for kids,” he said. “We just don’t want to see all the hard work put in by Dad and Mum disappear.”

St Francis principal Vincent Feeney explained that the rationale behind considering a change to the House names was primarily to strengthen focus on the school’s Catholic identity.

“In an increasingly secular world, providing role models with deep and powerful stories that can enable growth, connection and strong alignment between the faith of the College and the staff and students is more important than ever,” Mr Feeney said.

“St Francis Xavier College owes a debt to those who have helped it reach where it is today, and we are considering a number of options to continue honouring those who have made a significant contribution.

“The College must be able to organise itself in ways that best enable it to fulfil its many and varied functions according to the circumstances of the times.

“In the coming weeks, I expect the Catholic Identity team at the College will present their research and a recommendation on whether a change to House names would enhance the Catholic Identity of our College community.

“Once I have received the report, I will then make a final decision.”

Mr Feeney said the consultation process has included students, parents, staff and parish priests, and is supported by our governing body, Diocese of Sale Catholic Education.

The College House names, introduced in 1995 are McKenna, Gallagher, Burgess, McDonagh, McKenna, Schneider, Synan, Thomas and White.

The Living Treasures are Des O’Connell, Des McKenna, Sr Mary McCarthy, Sr Rosaleen McCaffrey, Sr Mary Jenkins, Msgr John Gallagher, Carmel McKenna, Maureen McDonagh, Aiden Burns, Robert Schneider, Trevor Wilson, Terry Synan and Vicki Clark.


Des McKenna is acknowledged as a founding father of St Francis Xavier College.

In the early 1970s, Des wrote to the Bishop expressing concern that their children, which would go on to number 11, travelled to Marist Sion College in Warragul to receive a Catholic education.

He said it was evident there was a strong need for a Catholic secondary college in the local area and asked the Bishop what he was going to do about it.

So Des, together with Monsignor John Gallagher, set in motion a train of events that, with an enormous amount of hard work by many people, led to the establishment of St Francis Xavier College in 1978.

Des chaired the college board of management until 1991, providing 19 years of service to the college at the highest level. This work was acknowledged by the awarding of a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992 and three years later a House was named in honour of Des and wife Carmel.

They are both recognized as Living Treasures of the College.

A Gazette obituary published after Des passed away in 2017 read: “To the McKennas, it was more than just a school; it was an integral part of Des’s life and remains so for Carmel… A portrait of Des hangs in the foyer to this day”.

His funeral service, attended by 700 people on 4 January that year, was fittingly held at the College’s Beaconsfield campus.