A Short History of Parramatta Marist

Old Parramatta Marist School Room Victoria Road Parramatta. Circa early 1900s

Parramatta Marist High is the oldest Catholic school in Australia with a history and tradition spanning over 190 years. Founded in 1820 by Fr John Therry, the original site was adjacent to St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, and became a highly respected Catholic school for both boys and girls from western Sydney.

From 1820 to 1875 dedicated Catholic lay teachers largely taught students attending the school. It was also during this time that the King’s School opened nearby in the old Government Horticultural Garden- the school would go on to become Marist’s chief opponents in cricket, rugby and athletics.

In 1875, the Marist Brothers took over the running of the Catholic school in Parramatta. The Marist Brothers had arrived in Australia only three years earlier and under Br Ludovic’s direction, Br Ange, Br. Edwin and Br Stanislaus were charged with the running of the now ‘Marist’ school at Parramatta.

The 1880s were important years for Marist. In 1888, a new monastery was built next to the school and in 1889 a new headmaster, a Frenchman, Brother Claudius, was appointed principal of the school.

During this time, enrolments increased to over 250, the first senior classes were presented for public examinations with notable success, facilities were expanded, extra classes were organised at night and on weekends and competitive sports were promoted vigorously with next-door neighbours- the King’s School.

Throughout the last years of the 19th century and into the new century, Parramatta Marist began to flourish and gain a reputation as specialising in the all-round education of boys in western Sydney.

The Last Class at Victoria Road – 1994
The Westmead Campus under Construction. Circa 1965. Source: Alman Harroway

In 1918, the original stone building was demolished and replaced with the building that housed the junior school until 1994.

During the 1920s and 1930s numbers continued to grow, placing more pressure on classroom accommodation.

The 1940s and 1950s saw the growth and consolidation of the secondary school and a fine record of scholastic and sporting success. Despite the erection of a new wing in 1956, the school was at breaking point by the early 1960s as enrolment reached over 1000. Resultantly, classes had to be taught in the Parish Hall (which had been sub-divided); on verandas; at St Vincent Boy’s Home and even under an oak tree in the school grounds. Consequently, the decision was taken to move the secondary classes to Westmead and leave only the primary classes at the Parramatta site.

In 1966, the school relocated to the spacious grounds attached to St Vincent’s Boys’ Home at Westmead. Secondary students transferred immediately but Years 5 and 6 remained at Parramatta until the phasing out of the junior school at the Victoria Road site in 1994.

In 1966, the first stage of the buildings on the new Westmead campus was opened and most classes transferred. Subsequent stages of building completed included: the Monastery in 1968; the Swimming Pool in 1968; the Library in 1971; the Senior Block in 1973; Arts and Techniques Centre in 1982; and the Administration Block in 1984.

In 1993, the Morley Centre was opened as a new multi-purpose facility and the new Science Building was opened in 2001. In 2003, the library was refurbished and named the Br Ludovic Learning Centre in honour of the first leader of the Marists in Australia. In 2006, an eLearning Centre was created on the lower floor of the Harroway building and in 2007 the Science laboratories, TAS and Creative Arts areas were updated and a 172-seat theatrette was built on the site of the old canteen.

In 2008, under the direction of Principal Br Patrick Howlett, the school introduced a new pedagogical approach, Project-Based Learning (PBL), into Year 9. Classrooms were redesigned in an open plan style to cater to this new pedagogy and the technology-rich environment. The further pedagogical change was necessitated by the progression of the year 9 students into year 11 in 2010.

This new model is based on the problem- based learning approach currently utilised by the Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, and is known as ‘1-5-1’ (reflecting the structure of the hours undertaken). Currently, yr 11 students undertake 151 lessons on the UWS site in a building named the Champagnat Centre. In 2011, the first Parramatta Marist students who undertook PBL and 151 sat their HSC examinations. These students have not only upheld the proud and successful academic tradition of Australia’s oldest Catholic school but are also better equipped for life in the 21st century.

Fortior Ito.

For a More Detailed History

A Pdf copy an extract from the Parramatta Marist Centenary Magazine includes the article “The Parramatta Marist Story” by Brother Rupert Kelly can be downloaded HERE This is a large file of 19 pages (4.6MB).

This is a relatively detailed history of the School from 1820 to 1975.

Brother Rupert was the history master in 1975. His homework revision system was to ask a question of each boy. Incorrect answers meant the student had to stand. All those standing were each asked a question. Wrong answers required the boy to go to the front of the class, bend over and be whacked on the backside with the edge of a large ruler. Did I mention the boys were in 6th Form (Year 12)?. Everyone passed history in the HSC. I understand teaching methods have changed since 1975.

The video above displays some images from the school’s history. Pulled together a few years ago for staff and students. It shows a little of the long and significant history of the school and alumni – beginning with Stan Wickham, Wallabies Captain and manager, Captain (Dr) Ray Allsopp (A.A.M.C. KIA during WW2), Olympian John Devitt, Paul Hogan, Prof. Chris O’Brien (School Captain 1969) through to the likes of Paul Gallen. Fortior Ito.

3 thoughts on “A Short History of Parramatta Marist”

  1. 1. 1875 was the year that the Marist Brothers took over the school. 1820 was when the school was founded by Fr John Therry.
    2. The building in Victoria Road was structurally unsound. It was said the only thing holding the wooden beams together was the white ants holding hands. Also the stairs at the front facing Victoria Road were supposedly built to help hold up the building.
    3. As for the King’s School, the oldest Church of England School in Australia (1827), and also our school’s neighbors at Victoria Road, they dismantled their sandstone chapel and rebuilt it when the King’s School moved to Pennant Hills Road North Parramatta. Apparently Catholic Education Parramatta was not prepared to do the same for the Old Parramatta Marist building and rebuild it at Westmead.

  2. I was in Brother Rupert’s 6th Form History class of 1975.
    There a few things that I remember about him;
    He encouraged a thirst for learning and the acquisition of knowledge.
    He was very strict but always fair.
    He held the land speed record for writing things on the black board for us to copy down. Nobody could copy what he wrote fast enough to keep up with him.
    He had bionic hearing. He could clearly hear a whisper at the back of the classroom with his back turned while he was writing on the board.
    He had multi directional echo location because he always ABSOLUTELY knew EXACTLY where (who) the whisper had come from.
    He used his echo location to target and direct pieces of chalk with uncanny accuracy to silence the whisperer.
    If the whisperer didn’t take the hint of silence from a piece of chalk hitting them at slightly sub-light speed then a black board duster usually followed.
    Although I ultimately became an environmental scientist I still carry an interest in all things historic 47 years later that I attribute to his stewardship.

  3. Can i ask 2 questions please
    1. Why did we celebrate the centenary in 1975 ( my 1st year at westmead ) if we are now celebrating the bi centenary in 2020 ?
    2. If the school is the oldest catholic school in australia with the original site adjacent to the cathedral there in victoria road,
    parramatta why was it demolished just to extend the damaged cathedral ? Are you allowed to demolish the oldest church
    of england school in australia ??

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