The school has used three different names over the years. Officially it has always been Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School but to begin with Holy Cross Convent was used. This changed in the late 1940s or early 1950s to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, although on the school and sports photos both Holy Cross and Epsom Convent appear. Later, in the 1970s, it was unofficially decided to call the school Epsom Catholic School and a sign to that effect was put up on the building. This name was never approved by the Bishop or the Ministry of Education and so the name was properly returned to its original one.
The School began with the opening of the Convent in 1921. Classes were held in the downstairs rooms of the original house, an elegant two-story villa. At the end of the first year the school was small (16 children) and most of the pupils were girls. The first boy was Frank Wright, later Monsignor Wright. The second boy was Kevin Walsh and they were followed by (Bishop) John Mackey and (Father) James McCormack. In the first years as well, most of the girls were boarders who came from farming areas, as getting to a Catholic school was difficult for them.
Jean Drum, nee Martinovich, was one of the first boarders. She came from Hamilton with her sister Kathleen. She recalled some of her memories of the first years. “…lessons were held in the boarders’ common room where, seated at a very large table, a limited number of local children joined us for day school. Bishop Liston would come and celebrate Mass in the convent chapel and after breakfast in the parlour, he usually invited two boarders to escort him on his walk to the tram stop at the top of Banff Ave.”
In 1922 the first school/church building was completed. This was built by Messrs Lee and Russell and had three classrooms. One was used as the church on Sundays, one for the infants to Standard 2, and Standard 3 upwards was in the third. Reading and recitation were held in the shelter sheds. Some innovative toilets that flushed automatically every five minutes or so were installed. The school was intended to have a roll of about 80 but by the end of 1922 or 1923 there were 107. Some of the first pupils came from other neighbouring Catholic schools but, as the years went by, the growing parish families kept the school full. The children were promised a picnic when the roll reached 50 and Norma Kemble can remember going by bus to Waikowhai beach for this celebration.
The fire that destroyed the old convent building had an effect on the school because it meant the boarders could no longer be accommodated in Epsom and were moved to St. Mary’s College.
The roll grew over the years. By 1948 there were 122 pupils and by 1950 there were 150. There were four teachers, all Sisters of Mercy. By 1959 the roll was 199 with three full-time teachers and two with slightly less than full-time hours. As can be seen, class sizes were larger than we expect today. In 1960, the Annual Return shows that the Primer 1-3 class had 39, the Primer 4-standard 1&2 class had 49 and the Standard 4, Form 1&2 class had 45! It did not detract from the excellent standard of the school, through, as the 1953 Inspector’s report shows. Mr M. J. O’Connor, Director of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Auckland wrote: “This school is under energetic and effective control. The Head Teacher receives the ready co-operation of loyal and efficient staff while teacher-pupil relationship is a commendable feature. Methods and programmes of work are well co-ordinated and progress throughout is very good. Order and tone are very good to excellent.”
Picnics & Games
Sister Francis of the Carmelites (Marcianne Forsman), who was at the school in the late 1940s and early 1950s, remembers: “As Primary School children we all took part in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament each Holy Thursday (this was preceded by formal practices in the Church) under the direction of the Sisters when we walked slowly down the centre and round the side aisles with hands joined, eyes down and singing the Pange Lingua. … The school picnic was held in the Convent grounds each year. There were games on the lawns, such as three-legged races, and the highlight was a large cardboard carton of ice-cream, enough to provide for us all.”
Another school building was completed in 1951, this time an infant room. Known as Block A, it was a wooden building, designed to catch the sun, and had an adjoining toilet block. Two new tennis courts were opened at the same time.
In 1968, the original building was extended and the old toilets and shelter shed on the Banff Avenue fence line were pulled down.
Change came in 1970 with the appointment of the first lay teacher, Miss Sheenagh Fitzpatrick. Next was Miss Josephine Ayers, who was probably the first to lead a First Communion preparation. In 1972 the school had a roll that ranged from 156-190, five teachers, a visiting French teacher and speech training.
In 1972 the school celebrated its 50th Jubilee. This was organised by a committee composed of Joyce Sumich (chair), Arthur Jeffs (secretary), Angela Dunford, Rita Loof, Rose Boreham, Eileen Scott, Eileen McGrath, Susan Adams, John McNally, Paul Marinovich, Paul Cassin and John Costello, plus Father Drumm and Sisters Theodore and Mary. Some 250 past pupils and teachers attended the Jubilee, which included a luncheon and a gala evening held at Te Unga Waka. The school pupils were taken to the movies on the Monday.
The Sisters of Mercy left the convent building and went to live in Onehunga in 1974 but they were able to remain teaching in the school until the end of 1978.
Miss Yvonne O’Malley, the first lay principal, began in 1978 and by 1979 there was a totally lay staff. The parish was sad to see the end of the wonderful and devoted years of teaching by the Sisters of Mercy but the general decline in vocations made this inevitable.
Many people were disappointed to see fewer Sisters guiding their children through those important years but the lay staff were able to bring many of the positive aspects of State education with them.
The increase in lay staff led to a funding crisis and although some government funding continued, a long-term solution had to be found. By the early 1970s the idea of fuller integration into the state school system became the likely answer. So began many years of discussions amongst the Catholic community, and between the Minister of Education and Bishop’s representatives.
From 1973-75 the Integration Act was negotiated. It was passed in 1975 and amended in 1978. Through this time also the Catholic community was forced to take a long hard look at the question: “What is a Catholic School?” and at what must be maintained. The Act essentially gave what was required, that is, complete financial security plus a guarantee that the special character of these schools would be kept. As stated in the Mission Statement our parish school “actively promotes the religious beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church” and “As a faith community, the school will ensure gospel values and teachings permeate every level of the education activity.”
Many Epsom parents will remember this as a time of some doubt and uncertainty but most must continue to be very satisfied with the result and with the continuing great benefits to our children.
The Epsom parish school was officially integrated in 1982 and this meant that the school buildings were required to be upgraded. At this point the school had six classrooms altogether, including two under the church. There was a tennis pavilion and a caretaker’s shed near the convent boundary. At the time of integration the maximum roll was set at 195 Catholic boys and girls from New Entrants to Standard 4, and girls up to Form 2.
The changes to the school buildings went in two stages: firstly, in 1987, Block 1 was completed, with a library included, and the school ceased to use the rooms under the church. As well the “original” building was redeveloped to include a Principal’s office and a school office. The caretaker’s building was moved to the north western corner. Stage two was the demolition of the original building to make way for Block 2, finished in 1992. The Lurline Avenue house was shifted and the grass field leveled to make more playground.
Attendance dues began in 1987 at $33 per term. In May 1989, as with all schools in New Zealand, the school embarked on all the changes of “Tomorrow’s Schools”.
This involved the election of a Board of Trustees, the development of a school charter, and a more clearly defined role for the principal. The chairman of the first BOT was Corbett Madden.
By the 1990s, growth in the parish and the demand for places in the school meant that a roll increase had to be addressed. As a result the maximum roll was raised to 220 pupils, the number of teaching staff was increased from six to seven and an extra classroom was required. This was achieved in 1995 by converting the library in Block 1 to a classroom and creating a new library at the northern end of the hall. For 1996 , under the MRG entitlement, the staff was increased to 9.3 teachers. The Principal was released from classroom responsibilities, but continued to do some teaching.
In 2018 the school roll stands at 240 with 19 permanent staff, several part time staff and five support staff.