Origins of the Marist Family
Marist Sisters, Marist Brothers, Marist Lay movement, Marist Fathers and the Marist Missionary Sisters form the Society of Mary, and the plan for this Society started in Lyon in 1816, when the first Marists signed a pledge at Fourviere in France.
As early as 1824 the Marist Sisters, with Jeanne-Marie Chavoin as Foundress, began their apostolic work that involved life after the French Revolution.
The Congregation of Marist Sisters spread to other countries, and underlying their educational and apostolic work was the desire of these early Marists to bring the presence of Mary among all with whom they worked. In 1908 a group of Sisters – French, English and Irish – came to Sydney to begin what we now have, the Marist Sisters’ College here at Woolwich.
The naming of both the College’s six Houses, and the P.J. Eymard Hall, acknowledges its Marist tradition. More information on the Houses can be found on the House System page.
The Beginnings of the College
During the early 1900’s the Marist Fathers of Sydney were negotiating with the Mother General of the Marist Sisters from France about establishing a foundation in Sydney.
In 1908, Mother Melanie established the first community of Marist Sisters in Hunters Hill. The Sisters had temporary accommodation in Alexandra Street for six months. With the help of Father Huault, a Marist Priest, they found the present site at Woolwich Road. Despite the very rocky and steep land, they decided to set up a Boarding and Day School for young ladies.
The Sisters purchased the stately two-storey house from the Usher family for £3000 in 1908. In the serene atmosphere overlooking the Lane Cove River a touch of France was transplanted, and the College was established. In 1909 there were 12 boarders and 20 day pupils. From 1910 the College enrolled both boys and girls in the primary grades. Two wings were added to the house and the College proper (the original Chavoin House) was built with wooden verandas. These were replaced with brick arches in 1924.
World War II
Both primary and secondary education continued at the College until 1942. In 1942 the College was evacuated to St Anne’s, Mittagong because the war in the Pacific presented a growing danger. In 1943 only 7 Sisters and 30 pupils remained at Woolwich. In 1944 the Junior boarders returned with an enrolment of 105. A modern Science lab was built during this year. In 1945 peace was declared and the students from Mittagong returned to Woolwich. However, the novices did not return, as a new Novitiate was opened at Merrylands in 1946.
Post World War II
The 1950’s and 1960’s were building years at the College. In 1950 two tennis courts were built and the opening of a new convent wing took place in 1954. In 1956 two classrooms to form St John’s were built. In 1957 bath sheds fronting the College baths were constructed.
Until 1960, the convent and the old Marian House sufficed with 294 students, six religious and four lay teachers. In 1960 the upper floor of St John’s (Marcellin) building was added. In 1961 fundraising began for the new chapel which was finally completed and blessed in 1966. In 1963 it was announced that the Primary School would leave Woolwich and move to another location. The College from 1964 would be only a secondary school and a Regional School for the area. In 1966 there were no graduates as high school was extended from 5 to 6 years. With the aid of the Archdiocesan Building Authority and Federal Government aid, 1966 saw the building of a new block, Chanel House, consisting of six classrooms and two science rooms to relieve the ‘sardine squash’. In 1969 there were 518 girls, 14 teachers (nine religious and five lay).
Building and Growth
1971 was a sad year as it saw the last of the boarders. The 70’s saw many innovations in educational resources. Three classrooms were added under Chanel house.
In 1980 the Sisters moved to Marian House and 64 Woolwich Road and the former convent was converted into 6 classrooms in 1985. It was home to the seniors until the conversion to the House System in 1992, and is now Colin House.
In 1991 the Chavoin building was demolished and the new three storey Chavoin block was built with three Science labs, a large preparation lab, a new Library, Textile and Design rooms and two Computer Labs as well as classrooms. While Chavoin was being rebuilt eight demountable classrooms were brought to Jaricot Park, previously a playground. Six demountables remained and became Jaricot House in 1992. In 1992 the House System was established, with the addition of two new Houses, Jaricot, named after Pauline Jaricot, founder of Catholic Mission, and Perroton House, after Marie Francoise Perroton, founder of the Missionary Lay Sisters.
The entire school population was now divided into 6 houses, each divided into 6 tutor groups. Tutor groups had members from every year, one’s entire College life at Woolwich was with the same tutor and tutor group. In 1994 the Chapel was converted to an all purpose hall with the addition of a mezzanine level. The P.J. Eymard Hall could hold the entire student population at assemblies.
The year 1998 was about building, with the refurbishment of the original Usher House. The staff and administration areas were renovated and many original features restored. The College population was now edging close to 800, and there were 60 teachers, with a religious Principal.
The growing College population resulted in the addition of one Tutor Group for each House in 1999.
The 21st Century
In the early 2000s the College began to plan another building project, which was to span several years. The first stage involved the creation of a new purpose built library, new music rooms, a new canteen and new a new toilet block. The stage also included the renovation of rooms in the top floor of the Chavoin building and a redesign of the egress to improve traffic flow around the College. The new spaces were occupied in November 2008 ready to start the 2009 school year.
The second building stage began in 2011 and was finally finished in 2012 creating for the College new performance spaces, commercial and Food Technology kitchens, Visual Arts rooms, Technology and Design rooms, PDHPE rooms. Both stages were officially opened in 2013 providing new learning spaces to house the now 1000 plus students and more than 100 staff that comprise the College community.
In 2010, the College Boatshed burnt down, and re-opened in 2015, after 5 years of planning and construction. The College Boatshed has been given the name ‘Navua’ as this was the name of the first ship that brought to Sydney Harbour the pioneers of the Marist Sisters in Australia.These pioneering Sisters were Mother Melanie, Sister Cyrille and Sister Odilon.
2010 also saw the end of an era. After 26 years as Principal, Sr Fidelis McTeigue sm retired and the College appointed Mrs Christina Trimble as it’s first lay Principal. The College continues to be a vibrant educational, Catholic community offering to girls a broad range of curricular and extracurricular opportunities in the Marist tradition.
The College is currently led by Dr Anne Ireland with the College Leadership Team.