1935: A new Convent School for Bayswater
Under Sr Paschal’s guidance and leadership, the Mercy charism of service to the poor within the apostolate of teaching was well established and the firm foundations for the growth and development of the school and parish were laid. Sr Paschal together with Sr Teresa Butler and Sr Adrian Coughlan were the founding teaching staff of St Columba’s.
On 5th March 1939, extensions to the school were blessed by the Archbishop Prendiville, and at the same time the school was placed under the patronage of St Columba. In 1942, the St Columba’s P & F Association was established with Mrs Veronica Harvey as the first President, ‘raising funds for specific projects that enhance the education of the pupils of St Columba’s.’ From 1946 until 1949 Sisters Paschal, Teresa and Virgilius comprised the only staff of St Columba’s, with records showing that there were 93 pupils in 1949.
In 1946 Father John Russell became the Parish Priest of Bayswater, taking over from Rev. E Sullivan, where he was to remain until he suffered a stroke in 1985. For many years Father Russell collected the Sisters from the Bassendean Convent each morning and drove them home again after school in the evening.
In 1951 Sr Paschal left after 16 years as St Columba’s longest serving principal and Sr Romuald was appointed the school’s principal in 1952.
1957: Building on our foundations
The new parish church was completed in 1957 and the old church was used as a classroom with the sisters often teaching very large classes of mixed grades.
Early records from 1957 show that there were 214 pupils comprising of 84 infants, 38 pupils in grades 1 & 2, 52 pupils in grades 3 & 4 and 40 in grades 5 & 6. A quote by a visiting School Inspector in 1958 commenting on the sister’s class size says, ‘ …her class is relatively small [with 38 pupils] and is working well.’
In 1962 St Columba’s employed its first lay teacher, Miss Stables and following the guidelines set down by the Catholic Education Commission in the mid-seventies, St Columba’s established its first School Board. By 1974 a central library was established in part of the old Church. During 1978 and 1979 the buildings were upgraded to provide an administrative block, a prefabricated classroom and a covered Assembly area. On Sunday 18th February 1979, the remodelled school was blessed by His Grace, Archbishop Goody.
By 1980, student numbers had fallen to as low as 109, as boys were encouraged to leave in grade 4 to commence their middle schooling at Catholic Boys Schools. To increase numbers, a bus was purchased to transport students from surrounding districts. In 1983 Sr Irena Kasprzyk was appointed Principal and in a report from the visiting government Superintendant in 1986 it states; ‘The principal and staff are to be congratulated on the highly effective and professional manner in which they are providing a varied and rich education programme for the children in their charge.’
In 1984, with the financial support of the Commonwealth School’s Commission, construction commenced on the new school wing. Between February 1984 and March 1986 the two stages of the building took place which provided extra classrooms. The old church was renovated into a library and named the Father Russell Library. On Sunday 28th April 1986, his Grace Archbishop Foley blessed the new school wing.
By then, the school had grown to 200 pupils.
1986: A jubilant time and an end of an era
1986 was the Golden Jubilee year for St Columba’s and to coincide with the Jubilee celebrations the School Crest and Motto were designed. Celebrations were held with the Most Rev. William Foley D.D Archbishop of Perth.
1986 was also a celebration of 50 years with the Sisters of Mercy and the lay staff working together to provide an excellent start to the education and life for the children of the parish of Bayswater.
The late 1980’s were to be a sad time for both present and past staff, pupils and parishioners of the St Columba’s community with Father Russell’s passing in 1987. Father Russell’s care and interest in all aspects of school life will always be remembered with respect, gratitude and affection.
1988 was a significant year for St Columba’s with the retirement of Sr Irena Kasprzyk, marking the end of the era of the Sisters of Mercy who served St Columba’s for 52 years. In 1989 Mrs Philomena Billington was appointed St Columba’s first lay principal. The building program continued with the addition of the school office and staff room and was opened by his Grace, Archbishop Prendiville. After five years as the principal, Mrs Billington left in 1993, leaving behind a musical legacy, especially the establishment of the Performing Arts Festival.
Others principals continued to leave their own significant mark including building works (two more rooms were added in 1994) and education initiatives. Mr Greg Martin, St Columba’s principal from 2008 – 2017, oversaw further building works including a new library named after Sr Irena Kasprzyk, school principal from 1983 – 1988, an undercover area and a nature playground. The school is currently led by Mr Art Lombardi, who began as principal of St Columba’s in 2018.
Today the school consists of almost 500 pupils and over 40 dedicated staff… a far cry from 1936; a dusty yard with three Mercy sisters and less than 100 students.