St Mary’s, as it was initially named, was opened by the Sisters of St Joseph on June 6 1869 on the corner of Bath and Moseley Streets in Glenelg South. The school was dedicated to our Lady of Victories Church and letters of Saint Mary MacKillop show that she visited the school on several occasions.
By 1894 enrolments had increased so greatly that the school and church moved to a new, bigger building now known as St Mary’s Hall, on the corner of Chapel and High Streets.
The Dominican Sisters took over the school as specialist educators in 1903 and a small band of sisters journeyed from Cabra Dominican College to the ‘convent by the Bay’ in a horse-drawn cab. At the back of the Holy Rosary Convent the nuns’ sparse rooms are today used by the Glenelg parish and parish priest Fr Anthony Kain.
A hallmark of the parish school over the years has been the sense of community, with many of today’s parents being former students.
John Riordan started kindergarten at the school in 1944 and completed Year 5 before leaving for Sacred Heart College.
He recalled the regular paper and scrap metal drives that were held to help the war effort and a couple of visits to the school by an Army representative demonstrating what children “should not pick up”.
Then there was the annual Pet Day Parade and Blessing and of course, the Dominican Sisters played a big part in his schooling and faith education.
John, 79, described Sister Mary Decklin as a one who was “very strict” and “made sure you obeyed the rules”. She was particularly scathing of John when his First Holy Communion photograph was taken.
“I sat in the front row between Mick Murray and Mick Hoban with Barry Patching on the end. Instructed by the photographer to smile and look up…I looked down. All the following year I got soundly lambasted by Sr Decklin who pointed me out to all and sundry, as the kid that ruined that year’s First Holy Communion photograph!”
In the 1970s both of John’s daughters, Kristy and Sam, followed in their dad’s footsteps and attended St Mary’s. Sam (now Porter) started in 1979 and also recalled how Sr Decklin, although by then much older, still put fear into some of the children.
After living in Queensland for some time, Sam and her family have returned to the Glenelg area and daughter Maggie this year started in Year 5.
“It’s wonderful here and there are great teachers,” Sam said.
While Sr Patricia Cramp handed over the leadership to the school’s first lay principal Pat Dorian in 1981, the traditions of the Dominicans – and those of the founding Josephites – remain at the centre of St Mary Memorial’s philosophy for education. Several current Dominican Sisters were also students at St Mary’s, including Glenelg local and Dominican Congregational leader Sr Bernadette Kiley OP.
Today the school has 363 children enrolled in Reception to Year 6 and principal Nat Izzo and his predecessor, Geraldine Rice have overseen periods of great change, including the large-scale building project currently underway to accommodate Year 6 students.
The main event to celebrate the 150th anniversary will be a dinner at the Stamford Grand Hotel on Saturday June 1. Tickets are available through www.trybooking.com/BASMR or by contacting Deb at the school, 8294 4580.Jump to next article