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Project unlocks 150 years of empowerment


Established by the Dominican Sisters in 1869, St Mary’s College is the oldest continuously running school for girls in South Australia and this month it will celebrate its sesquicentenary with the launch of a project featuring 150 stories from students through the ages.

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Undertaken as an English writing assignment for students in Years 7-9, the ‘150 Stories for 150 Years’ project covers the thoughts and recollections of old scholars as well as current St Mary’s girls, past and present staff, Board members and friends of the college.

Former principal Jane Swift with Year 12 student Sophie Teakle

Over a three week period many old scholars were interviewed as part of a ‘Living Library’, with students then writing their biography. These recollections were condensed to a 150-word story which will be published on the college’s website. Some of the interviews have been included on Arch D Radio’s School Life Podcast series and other stories are set to be showcased at the college’s 150th anniversary celebrations on August 10.

Principal Clare Nocka said the project had been a “wonderful” way to highlight the important role St Mary’s had played in the lives of so many women.

“The focus of the interviews was ‘how has St Mary’s shaped who you are or what you are doing today’,” she explained.

“We wanted to tap into the school values and the idea of empowering women – and how St Mary’s does that. I’m also really interested in the contribution Catholic school students make in society so we made a deliberate attempt to access old scholars who we knew were working in social justice areas.

“There are some really great individual stories that stand out in their uniqueness.”

Ms Nocka added that many of those who took part in the Living Library were quite emotional upon returning to the school.

“They used language such as it is ‘like coming back home’, ‘this place was my family’, ‘there was a strong community feel here and it still feels like that’. There was a tangible feeling that these people still felt connected to the college, that people remember the school with genuine warmth and fondness.”

College events coordinator Sue Cvijanovic, who organised the inaugural gathering of old scholars in March this year and ran a social media campaign to attract interviewees, said once details spread the project “snowballed”.

“We are still gathering stories and this term some of the writers will meet with a group of the Cabra Dominican Sisters because we haven’t captured all of those stories yet,” she said.

Olga Piro

The oldest past scholar featured in the project was Olga Piro (nee D’Andrea) who attended the college from 1935-1938, starting in Reception. She spoke of “loving that St Mary’s was a Catholic school” and how she enjoyed being taught by the nuns.

Current Year 8 student Brooke Simpson was the youngest person interviewed and said St Mary’s had taught her “how to be the best version of yourself”.

The students involved in writing the biographies said it was a rewarding experience as they were able to gain an insight into what the college had been like in the past and how it had impacted

Brooke Simpson

women. “We had so much in common. Chantelle has travelled the world and can speak my language. She just wants to make a difference and help people,” Year 7 student Hildana said of her interview with Chantelle Corina.

St Mary’s College opened on February 2 1869, following the arrival in Adelaide from Dublin of seven Dominican Sisters who took up residence in three small cottages on the corner of West Terrace and Franklin Street. They came in answer to the call of Bishop Sheil who wanted ‘a select school for girls whose parents could afford to pay for education beyond the elementary stage’.

The ‘150 Stories for 150 Years’ project will be showcased at the college’s 150th anniversary gala night at the Entertainment Centre on August 10.

For more information or to purchase tickets go to


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