by SARAH ROBERTS
A beaded tapestry, with roots dating back to the 1870s, has helped mark 50 years since St Dominic’s Catholic College opened in Henderson in west Auckland.
Dominican sisters from the South Island gifted the tapestry to the school at the jubilee celebrations on September 15-16.
It is a symbol of the special connection of Dominican heritage that spans the North and South Islands.
Many of the Dominican sisters now living in the South Island taught at St Dominic’s Catholic College’s original site in Northcote in Auckland and later at the Henderson location when it was opened in 1967.
It’s believed the tapestry came to New Zealand with Bishop Patrick Moran and the Dominican sisters when they first moved to Dunedin to open a school for the children of Irish migrants.
For many years the picture hung in St Dominic’s Priory’s main parlour, where the Dominican sisters were living, until the building was vacated in 1983. The tapestry was taken down and until now has been in storage in Dunedin waiting for its new home.
Sr Helen Bergin, OP, said it was always the wish of the Dominican sisters that the piece be brought from the South Island to St Dominic’s College to be gifted for the 50th jubilee.
“The gift celebrates the 50 years during which many teachers and young women have been involved in education at St Dominic’s Catholic College,” she said.
In the early days, St Dominic’s in Henderson had only one quadrangle, but no swimming pool, proper playing field, or chapel.
Dominican sisters at Northcote moved to the Henderson site in 1967, with 22 form one and two girls, now known as year seven and eight students. They were guided by the foundation principal, the late Sr Maria McDonald.
Principal Carol Coddington recalled stories from Sr Maria of the muddy days of the first year.
“Sr Maria used to tell the story of how it rained nearly every day from May through to October and the builders were trying to build the boarding house and convent for the nuns and the weather just kept getting worse. But the school community kept battling on,” Mrs Coddington said.
Eight classrooms had been built and 193 girls had enrolled by the end of the foundation year. The college today has a roll of 910 and has room to grow.
Religious sisters stepped aside from the top job at St Dominic’s College when the first lay principal Rodney Orange took the role in 1981.
Around this time there were 470 students. It was still a relatively small roll. Mr Orange ended his term as St Dominic’s principal in 1995. The reins were handed over to current principal Carol Coddington.
“St Dominic’s Catholic College students still have a strong sense of community and they continue to be educated in the spirit of the Dominican tradition,” Mrs Coddington said.
A meet and greet was held on the Friday night of the Jubilee weekend. The next day, student performances, tours of the college, and sports events were held and a Mass was celebrated. That was followed by a dinner at the Swanson RSA.
“It was a chance for former students to re-connect and share their own stories and memories of the school. The school has a wonderful rich history and a vibrant future,” Mrs Coddington said.
Photos from the Jubilee weekend are available for download at https://soulsistersphotography. pixieset.com/stdominicscollegejubilee2017/
A Dominican education in the 1960s
Elizabeth Hill recalls memories of her time as a boarder at St Dominic’s College in Dunedin in the 1960s. She later became deputy principal at St Dominic’s Catholic College in Henderson in Auckland in 1996 and retired in 2015 from the role.
She was the third generation in her family to attend St Dominic’s College in Dunedin as a boarding student.
“My sister and I always knew that we would be attending St Dominic’s College for our secondary education — it was a given! It was also a given that it was not only for our secondary education — but it was to go as boarders. There was something exciting about the prospect of boarding school (before I went, at least) as it was following in the footsteps of both my parents and the children’s literature of the 1950s and 1960s which was full of wonderful adventures set in boarding schools.”
“At the tender age of 11, I set off for Dunedin with a trunk full of new clothes, linen and all the other requirements — just like the characters in those books I had read! . . . One of the most difficult ‘sicknessness’ to bear is homesickness and I was about to suffer from a major dose of it . . . saying goodbye to one’s parents, be it on a railway station, at the school gates or wherever never got easier.”
“Life as a boarder was controlled by routines — being woken up to a sister clapping up and down the dormitory to three hours of supervised study each night. Letters were written home each Sunday and on one Sunday a month we had ‘Fourth Sunday’ — this meant we could visit relations or friends. While it all sounds pretty regimented and strict we did learn self-discipline, how to be tidy and how to get along with other people.
“During my six years at St Dominic’s we were blessed with Sister M. Paul as our ‘cook’. The older I became the more Sr Paul looked after me! Her cream sponges were famous and when it was school fete time she used to practice her sponges and pass those results onto the senior boarders! Porridge never tasted as good as it was during my boarding school years. Like all borders we managed the occasional midnight feast — even if we had to do it before midnight so that we didn’t break the Church’s law of no meat on a Friday.”
“St Dominic’s Day was the best day of the year — our favourite meals all day and the culmination was the Boarders vs Day Scholars sports competition.”