ANU: Honouring a pioneering leader of the residential experience

My Ursies days were life changing and [Sister Angela] represents a strong symbol of all that was enriching about it.

Sister Angela Cooney, the foundation Principal of Ursula Hall at ANU and a pioneering leader of the university residential experience in Australia, has died in Brisbane at the age of 97.

In the 1970s, Sister Angela led Ursula College, as the ANU residence was known then, to become one of the first women’s colleges in Australia to admit men.

Dr Ian Walker, Head of Toad Hall and past Head of Ursula Hall, says there was resistance to mixing genders at residences at the time.

“Ursula College made this momentous change at a time when there was certainly resistance to all male colleges admitting women – not only in Australia but around the world,” Ian says.

“Sister Angela’s motives were partly the realities of costs, but also to be true to the words of the founder of the Ursuline Order, Angela Merici, to ‘be always aware of the needs of the times and the need to change accordingly’.”

Sister Angela’s student leaders during her time at Ursula College included former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and High Court Justice Stephen Gageler. Former Chief of the Army and 2016 Australian of the Year, Lieutenant General David Morrison, was a resident at Ursula College during Sister Angela’s time there.

Sister Angela’s enduring legacy is her former students, who remembered her with great affection in their messages this week, Ian says. Messages from former students included:
“Where would we have been without such a strong intelligent woman as a role model”
“My Ursies days were life changing and [Sister Angela] represents a strong symbol of all that was enriching about it.”
During her 16 years at ANU, Sister Angela was awarded a Churchill Fellowship (1976), which supported her to travel to the United States, United Kingdom and Japan to study the provision of accommodation for university students.

This study abroad built on Sister Angela’s foundational tertiary education and work experience. She completed her Diploma of Physiotherapy at the University of Queensland (UQ) and practiced physiotherapy before entering religious life. Later on, Sister Angela completed a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence at UQ, and studied theology and scripture in Rome for four years.

Sister Angela retired from Ursula College in 1983, and continued to study abroad and serve the Ursuline Order in a variety of ministry roles, Ian says.

“At a celebration of the 50th anniversary of her religious profession in 1999, she said that she hoped ‘to persevere joyfully and faithfully in the service of God till the end’. That, she has done.”

In addition to her contributions to ANU, Sister Angela was a member of the Australian and International Federation of University Women (IFUW), serving as National President from 1980 to 1982 and Victorian President from 1990 until 1991. She represented the IFUW at the 7th International Conference of University Vice-Chancellors in the Philippines.

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