9 January 2018

The vocation of music teachers

One hundred years ago in the small town of Mintaro, South Australia, a talented family of musicians was being nurtured by Daniel Horgan and Lillie May McCarthy.

Daniel and Lillie had married in February of 1910 and their first daughter, Mary Carroll, named after her paternal grandmother was born at the end of 1910. In 1912 they named their second daughter Phoebe. Sons William Thomas and Daniel James were born in 1914 and 1916. Lillian Veronica was the youngest child born in 1917. 

Daniel, their father, had come from a large family of eight children and one of his sisters, Johanna, had entered the Dominican Convent of Cabra in Adelaide in 1907 taking the name Sister Mary Stanislaus at her profession of vows in 1908. (1)

This was the start of a tradition of girls entering the convent and would have played a strong part in influencing the choices made by the Horgans’ younger daughters Phoebe and Lillian. A long association of Horgan girls with the Dominican Convent at Cabra was well underway.

Phoebe Horgan

In 1922 the earliest mention of Phoebe in Trove, is of her attendance at St Joseph’s School at Spalding. This was only the second year of the school’s existence but several of the pupils were already showing promise with success in music and other exams. Phoebe and her elder sister Mary are mentioned in the school reports in 1923 and 1924. In March of 1926 Phoebe attained a high distinction in pianoforte. (2) By January of 1927 she had received her QC (Qualifying Certificate) along with a bronze medal for her Honors results in the London College of Music exams and Distinction in the Associated Board of Music Exams Intermediate division. (3)

In January of 1927 tragedy struck when Lillie May Horgan died at only 40 years old.(4) Mary, Phoebe’s elder sister who was now only 16 would had to have taken on the household duties.

Phoebe’s musical success continued and she obtained her Diploma in 1928. There  are several mentions in the newspapers of the day of her entertaining the public at concerts and fundraising occasions in towns around Manoora.

In 1929 she was a pupil at Cabra and along with a first cousin Catherine Horgan, obtained credits for her A.Mus.A.
HorganPhoebe_1928music awardIn the 1930 end of year report from Cabra Dominican convent in Adelaide, it is noted that among the former pupils:

Phoebe Horgan is doing very well as a teacher of piano and theory, and her pupils gained many honors and credits in the recent music examinations. (5)

In this same report her first cousins, Catherine and Maimie Horgan are also mentioned as previous scholars whose studies at the Conservatorium were progressing well.

Phoebe entered the Dominican order of nuns as Sister Alphonsus in 1932 one year after another of her first cousins, Joan Therese Horgan had professed her vows as Sister Joan.

Phoebe, Sr Alphonsus as she was known, then taught music and singing for many years. When I attended Cabra in the mid 1960s she was teaching music to the next generation of Horgans.

Did I realise these nuns were second cousins once removed? No, my father had of course mentioned that some of the nuns were related to him, but my lack of interest in family history as a teenager meant that I did not make the connection. Sister Alphonsus did however, encourage my music studies which I continued on after school for a couple of years at Flinders University under Dr Robert Illing.
She died in 2012 after a long illustrious career and was well remembered with these words.
HORGAN, Sr. M Alphonsus OP,  OAM. 
Sister Mary Alphonsus died peacefully at  Tappeiner Court Nursing Home, on Wednesday, April 25, 2012.
An inspirational musician and choral director, she will be lovingly remembered by her Dominican Sisters, her family and friends and the countless students with whom she shared the wonders of music. We extend our grateful thanks to all who cared for her so lovingly at Tappeiner Court. Christ loves you; into whose graces you have entered whose melodious music charms you.
An extensive obituary celebrating her life and contributions to music education appeared in The Southern Cross newspaper in 2012 and is available under the banner Gifted Musician and Teacher on page 23.

Lillian Veronica Horgan


Phoebe’s younger sister Lillian Veronica, followed in her footsteps for many years. As a talented pianist at the age of 16,  she was awarded a three year scholarship in 1933 to the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide.

Miss Lillian Veronica Horgan (pianoforte), who has been a pupil of the Dominican Convent for the past four years, has been awarded one of the three Elder scholarships, recommended by the examiners (Dr. E. Harold Davies and.Mr. H. Brewster-Jones), by the Council of the University of Adelaide. Each scholarship is tenable for three years at the Elder Conservatorium. Mr. Brewster-Jones said that Miss Horgan has every requirement that a pianist needed, such as muscular elasticity, natural technical facility, and a musical quality in her playing. She was an earnest and enthusiastic young pianist. " I predict a very successful future for her," he added. (8)

By the end of 1939 Lillian had gained her licentiate in Music had added a teaching diploma to her qualifications. At this stage she was teaching piano at Cabra.  As Sister Mary Vianney O.P. she became choir mistress and in 1951 took a winning junior choir from the Franklin Street Dominican convent to Melbourne to participate in a jubilee festival.(9) Her sister Mary also went with them. Lillian, as Sister Vianney in the 1960s, also taught me music for a couple of years. She later left the convent and died in July 2003.

Mary Caroll Horgan the elder sister died at age 65 in 1975. The brothers, William Thomas Horgan died in 2000 and Daniel James Horgan died in 1993.

Thanks are due to these two sisters, Phoebe and Lillian Horgan, for introducing me to classical music, honing some poor singing skills, taking me to symphony concerts and my first opera, and for fostering what has become a lifelong interest.

A list of other Dominican nuns with details of the Order’s arrival in South Australia is available at this list in Trove.

Other HORGAN nuns mentioned above

Joan Therese - Sister Mary Joan HORGAN: 1909 – 1994  (2nd cousin once removed)
Daughter of Thomas HORGAN and Margaret Anne nee DEMPSEY
Professed Vows 19 January 1931

Johanna - Sister Mary Stanislaus HORGAN: 1883 –1978  (1st cousin twice removed)Daughter of Thomas HORGAN and Mary CAROLL
Professed Vows 16 October 1908

1. 1908 'Profession at Cabra.', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 23 October, p. 11. , viewed 09 Jan 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166973318
2. 1926 'SPALDING CENTRE.', The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), 9 March, p. 6. , viewed 10 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55025877
3. 1927 'Examination Results Of Sister of St. Joseph's Schools for 1926', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 28 January, p. 16. , viewed 10 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167800939
4. 1927 'Family Notices', News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), 25 January, p. 14. (HOME EDITION), viewed 10 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129203170
5. 1930 'St. Mary's Dominican College, Cabra.', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 19 December, p. 5. , viewed 10 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167051831
6. 2012 'Deaths', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA 1954-), 27 April, p 97, viewed 3 May 2017.
7. 1933 'Today's Pictures of Elder Scholarship Winners', News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), 29 November, p. 1. , viewed 06 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128478099
1933 'PERSONAL', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 1 December, p. 14. , viewed 10 Jan 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167699331
8. 1939 'St. Mary's Dominican College, Cabra, Clarence Park', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 15 December, p. 4. , viewed 08 Jun 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167763312
9. 1951 'They Flew and Sang', Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), 28 September, p. 10. , viewed 10 Jan 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167736143