The History of our Parish School

Sursam Corda - Lift up you hearts!

60 years Celebration of the Opening of St Ignatius school building


Toowong Catholic Church & School 1893 - 1930
Toowong Catholic Church and School 1893 - 1930

When one looks at the present St Ignatius School, spread out as it is, trying to capture best use of space in extensions to the original building for two stories, providing up to date educational needs and space; one finds that as the years roll by there has been continual upgrading of facilities. One wonders where the next upgrade will take us.

In the last 12 months, the original school on the present site since 1930 (the Church hall) has been required to absorb the art room in its foyer. Previously, the ‘out of school hours care’ (OSHC) moved into the area occupied by Sister Mary Isadore’s infant school of three grades, following its later use as the Church hall kitchen. This area later extended to cater for extra OSHC numbers with the removal of the hall stage. Grades 2,3,4, 5 and 6 had individual classes in the open hall space with the ongoing disturbances from one class to another.

This ‘open learning’ atmosphere was to last 18 years until the new school with individual classrooms was provided. The infant school of 3 classes—Prep 1&2, Prep 3&4 and Grade 1—were separated from the big school by dividing ceiling to floor sliding glass and timber framed doors. The Grade 7 (Scholarship) class was accommodated in the foyer of the hall.

On 30th November 1946, the foundation stone of the new school building was laid by Archbishop James Duhig DD, though work on the foundations had started 6 months earlier.

New St Ignatius School May 18th 1930
New St Ignatius School May 18th 1930


From 1930 onwards, the parish had been troubled by insufficient income in parish collections to meet interest payments on the loan for the new church (costing about 14,000 pounds), let alone to reduce the capital.

Upon his appointment as parish priest in 1940, Fr William O’Keeffe SJ (to whom the 1948 school building is dedicated) realising the financial problem, wrote to each parishioner seeking support in liquidating the debt or at least meeting interest commitments. A bequest from Patrick and Ella O’Shea, through the Jesuit Fathers, enabled the Church debt to be liquidated and enabled Fr Maurice Fitzgerald SJ, the successor to Fr O’Keeffe, to think about a new school on the boy’s playing field.

It should be remembered there was a depression from 1933—1936 during which time relief workers enhanced the church/school surroundings. This was followed by the 2nd World War from 1939-1945. As a result, building materials were quite scarce which slowed down construction of the new school. Prayers were sought at each morning assembly of the school for the first load of bricks to arrive.

A parishioner, Frank Shuttlewood, was the builder. Another parishioner, Jack Burke was the foreman bricklayer assisted by another parishioner, Jack Lane. Mr Jack O’Donohue was the architect.

The building of the new school continued throughout 1946, 1947 to the middle of 1948 when it was blessed and opened on 4th July. A large assembly of parishioners gathered on the Sunday to witness the event.

The new school featured separate rooms for each class, the infants’ school 3 grades on the ground floor the present library) along with the domestic science facilities which were a new feature (present admin area). Grades 2-7 were accommodated on the top floor in separate rooms. End stairwells and wide verandahs on the northern side were features. The old timber toilet block was replaced. The cost was quoted at 8,000 pounds ($16,000).

These arrangements lasted until the scholarship examination at the end of Grade 7 (9th year at school) was abolished in 1962. Grades 6 and 7 were then absorbed into the high school system. The previous preparatory grades and Grades 1-5 were absorbed into a Grade 1-7 primary school system.

At the opening of the new St Ignatius School on the afternoon of Sunday 4th July 1948, Archbishop James Duhig DD attacked the promoters of the abolition of the scholarship system which had been inaugurated by Sir James Blair 35 years previously. The promoters for the abolition of the scholarship system quoted “that the system darkens the life of children, that form their entry in to school at five years of age, it is a nightmare menacing their happiness as they are all of the time pursued by the fear that if they did not pass the scholarship examination they will be branded as inferior”.

On the other hand, the Archbishop quoted, “I believe the real position is that educational discipline has been hopelessly loosened in our time and that on of the remaining supports of that discipline is the scholarship examination. Today children are largely ruling their parents with their likes and dislikes and with the parents supporting them they venture also to rule the school. To my mind the principle of the scholarship examination is a good one for the very reason that it puts before the children an objective to be reached if they are to have anything like successful careers in the world.”

At this time, the school was under the control of the Sisters of Mercy, as it had been since 1902 in Holland St, assisted by the lay pupil teachers in prep grades who received board and a pittance. If any Sisters were sick, a qualified parent filled the breach at no cost.

In 1975, the parish was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to acquire the Morrow property next door to the school. The parishioners gave due support to the parish priest, Fr Richard Galbraith, to do so even if for the next sixteen years the old home on the back of the property (Grove Crescent side) was rented and the front yard fenced off to provide play area for Grades 1 & 2. The parish had just built the Auchenflower church in 1969.

In 1983, the first lay principal was appointed and several discrepancies were identified in the school such as classrooms not big enough, no admin area, no sick bay etc.

In 1986, an extension to the main building was built over an easement to the convent to the front of the Morrow property to provide new classrooms for Grade 1 & 2. This project gained an interest assistance grant and a voluntary parent building fund levy was introduced. The loan was for ten years. This building was dedicated on 13th April 1986 to the Sisters of Mercy and lay staff since 1903.

In 1991, it was necessary to gain possession of the house and move the Grade 7 class into it. Meanwhile, plans were put in place for the erection of the Sister Mary Leonard building of 2 classrooms, which was blessed and opened by Bishop Michael Putney on 28th August 1996. Federal Government funding towards the project was lost due to some technical difficulties as there was severe protesting over the removal of the Morrow house. Funding was replaced by the State Government and the project finalised including duplication of the toilet block.

Due to dual-streaming of lower grades to make full classes in the upper grades, caused by boys leaving to go to other schools, in additional 2 classrooms were built in the Jubilee year, 2000, over the site of the previous porch (hat room) and tuckshop, built with silver circle money in the 1950’s. This building was funded by an anonymous donor. This building was blessed and opened on 21st May 2000 by Mrs Mary Persley, founding President of the Mothers’ Committee. Provision was made under this building for improved teacher’s amenities, which did not come to fruition until 2007. Included in this project was the provision of the “Barbara Foster Art centre” which replaced an amphitheatre located under the 1986 extension.

Late in 2006, provision was made for ‘prep school’ facilities under the Sister Mary Leonard building which robbed students of a popular undercover space of relaxation. To compensate for this, an undercover space was built between the school and the toilet block and put to use in 2007 along with an improved administration area.

In the Diamond Jubilee year of the 1948 building, you will observe that this building, the Fr William O’Keeffe memorial school, has certainly spread its wings up, out and around. In the school centenary year, 2003, we had Mardi Kearney’s sculpture “Jesus and the little kid” put into place adjoining the 1986 extension. This year we have had a further sacred space installed with “Mary and Child” set up in the gardens beside the stairs leading to the Sr Mary Leonard building.

In June 1940, school parents and parishioners cleared the land beside the convent to create a girls’ playing field. An ant bed tennis court and two basketball courts were marked out. The tennis court and one basketball court were upgraded in 1976 by Fr Leo Flynn. Through the generosity of a benefactor, the parish has been able to acquire these playing fields from the Sisters of Mercy for the future benefit of the school recreational activities.

In 1948, motivation for school improvements came generally from the Sisters of Mercy through the parish priest who was required to energise the parish. A school Mother’s Committee did not come into existence until about 1960, the school P&F association in about 1974 and the School Board in about 1990.

It is with proud record that we acknowledge the efforts of all people to enhance the St Ignatius School. On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the opening of the Fr William O’Keeffe Memorial School Building on 4th July 1948, we acknowledge priest's, sisters, teachers, parents, parishioners and students who have been associated with the wonderful upgrades of school facilities back then and since.

We have lifted them up to the Lord! Ad Marjorem dei Gloriam

In memory of Fr William O’Keeffe SJ,
Parish Priest 1940 to 1944.

© Percy Hanlon


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