In 1885, the Sydney Anglican Diocesan Synod passed ‘a resolution in favour of deaconess work’ 1. The first Australian ordination of an overseas-trained deaconess was in Sydney in 1886. There were five deaconesses at work in Sydney before the idea of operating a training home took shape 2 .
The Rev. Mervyn Archdall and his wife Martha were the founders of the Deaconess Institution ministry in Australia, which was modelled on similar work in Germany and England. On 17 August 1891, the deaconess training school ‘Bethany’ opened in Balmain.
‘Mrs Archdall was content to take up teaching and her equally devoted husband cheerfully surrendered one-fourth of his income that Sydney might have the benefit of a suitably trained body of Christian women workers. Men and women who can thus spend themselves and their possessions for the work of God have always accomplished great things in the world of service.‘ 3
Deaconesses worked in parishes – visiting people in their homes, visiting and nursing the sick, teaching at Sunday Schools and Scripture in schools and conducting evangelistic meetings, amongst other activities. Other works were begun in addition to the training of deaconesses. The needs of the expanding work resulted in the purchase and consecration of 28 Carillon Avenue, Newtown, on 6 December, 1916, which became the headquarters of the Deaconess Institution (now ADM). Various renovations were made to Deaconess House over the years, to improve living arrangements for the ever-increasing number of students.
In the 1970s, female students began to enrol in the Bachelor of Theology offered by Moore Theological College (MTC), next door to Deaconess House. Deaconess House began a ministry training program for women enrolled at MTC, to address the special pastoral needs of female students. A variety of other programs were also begun, including ministering to the university students living at Deaconess House, part-time Bible courses for lay women in Sydney, an annual women’s conference, and Diploma courses. The clerical role of deacon was opened up to women in 1989. The last deaconesses to be ordained in Sydney occurred in 1991.
A joint enrolment agreement was introduced between Deaconess House and Moore Theological College in 1993. In 1997, Deaconess House changed its name to Mary Andrews College in recognition of the outstanding life-long work of Deaconess Mary Andrews, who died the previous year. Ten years later, a formal partnership agreement between the Anglican Deaconess Institution Sydney Limited and Moore Theological College saw degree-based theological education of women students pass fully to Moore.
Mary Andrews College moved from Newtown to Stanmore at the end of 2007, focusing on teaching the Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas in Theology and Ministry.
In December 2009 Mary Andrews College moved again. This latest move from Stanmore to St Andrew’s House in Sydney Square now sees the College well located in modern premises for our main teaching centre, library and staff offices.
Mary Andrews College is unique as the only Bible college in Australia founded to equip women for ministry, a mission begun in 1891.
1 Source: The Vision Unfolding. Deaconess Institution 1891-1991