St Mary’s Parish School began in 1853 as a school for local Catholic children run by lay teachers and operating out of St Mary’s Church. The education of the parish children continued in this way until 1872, and the passage of the Education Act 1872 which declared that education was to be ‘free, secular and compulsory’. With all government funding of Catholic schools ending, the parish priest, the Rev. James Corbett had the task of finding a way to continue the school without government support. In January 1873, Rev. Corbett wrote to the Presentation Sisters in Limerick, Ireland: “From the ends of the earth I write to you for help….Come in God’s name and help us” he wrote. On 21 December 1873, after a sea journey of 56 days, the steamer, the Great Britain arrived in Port Melbourne with five Presentation Sisters and two Postulants.
On 26 January 1874, the Presentation Sisters opened St Mary’s parish school with enrolments of 120 girls (a boy’s school continued under a lay headmaster). At the same time, a fee paying (select) school for senior girls was opened in one of the rooms of the presbytery with 23 pupils. On 24 June 1874, more than 400 children (including more than 200 girls prepared by the new Presentation Sisters) received their First Communion at St Mary’s.
In 1874, Fr Corbett purchased ‘Turret Lodge’ in Dandenong Road opposite the Presbytery for £2500 as a home for the Sisters and on 13 February 1875, ‘Turret Lodge’ was blessed by Archbishop Goold. Beside the house, a school was built for both primary students and senior students which is the current site of Presentation College, Windsor. In 1878, at the request of Fr Corbett, the Christian Brothers arrive in St Kilda. In 1878, St Mary’s’ Boys School opened with 242 students and St Mary’s Parish school with 256 students. On 22 November 1876, St Mary’s Infant school opened.
In 1912, the then parish priest, Monsignor Lynch paid £3,500 for the land on which the current school sits “for advanced classes at St Mary’s” It had previously been used as a school by Mademoiselle Pignolet. In 1939, the Inspector of Catholic Schools Report described the buildings of St Mary’s as inadequate with 92 Preparatory, Grade 1 and 2 pupils being in “one room with poor lighting”. In 1962, the then parish priest, Fr John Durkin, began building a new school at a cost of £38,000.
In July 1963, the new school was opened by Archbishop Justin Simmonds. Fr Leo Hartnett was the parish priest at this time. In 1966-67, grades 7 and 8 were phased out at St Mary’s Parish school and in 1971-72, the school block in Westbury Street was added. In 1984-86, St Mary’s Boys School (Grades 3 – 6) was phased out and in in 1986, St Mary’s Parish School was refurbished and the administration area extended. In 1987, St Mary’s Parish School became co-educational.
In 1994, after 120 years under the leadership of the Presentation Sisters, St Mary’s had its first lay Principal. In 2011, a new library and multipurpose building was named in honour of the school’s first principal, Mother Berchmans Carroll. Close to 250 students are now enrolled at St Mary’s East St Kilda.
In 2018, with State Government funding, plans for the refurbishment of the main building began under the then Principal Gerard Lewis. It was four years later, including two years of a global pandemic that building works were completed and on Thursday May 5th 2022 Father Jerome and Principal Cathy Ferrari, with the community, officially opened the refurbished building along Westbury Street. Today, Prep to Year 6 students learn in beautifully designed learning spaces that facilitate a contemporary learning approach.
St Mary’s Primary School is a Catholic Parish Primary School educating children from Foundation to Year 6. We are inspired by the person and teachings of Jesus Christ and we hold a special affiliation to Mary, Jesus' mother, who was his first teacher in love and compassion and his first disciple. The Presentation Sisters and their founder, Nano Nagle, have been a significant part of our 160 year history and identity. Their work in educating children and young people in the rich heritage of the Catholic tradition are both enduring and inspiring.
We aspire to being and building a community of faith and learning that honours and upholds our core commitments. These are;
- The school’s Catholic identity will be authentic and meaningful for all members of the school community.
- Children will be engaged in contemporary learning where they are assisted to become curious, creative, reflective and independent thinkers.
- Children will be supported by strong family, school and wider community relationships and collaboration.
- Staff will be highly attuned to each child’s distinctive wellbeing and learning needs.
- All members of our diverse school community will affirm, challenge, support and learn from each other.
St Mary’s Primary School is an inclusive community where students are respected, cared for and have a strong sense of belonging. They are enriched in their faith and learning by the relationships nurtured with the parish of St Mary's, the Presentation Sisters and the neighbouring Catholic schools. We continue the mission of living, loving and serving in the way of Christ, caring for God's creation, and keeping our hearts and minds open in education and service.
Faithful to our mission, we hold the following values to be central to our identity, relationships and endeavours;
‘Finding the Light Within’
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