Grand old college stages a reunion

From school to Renaissance Centre to the dilapidated site it remains today: Mount St Mary’s College building in Katoomba has a rich and varied history.

And on the weekend of March 23-25, former students will be having a reunion. All ex-students, staff, their families and friends are invited.

Alumni from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s have indicated they will attend, travelling from Queensland, Victoria, the ACT and other parts of NSW to join those who remained in (or returned to) the Blue Mountains.

There will be a dinner on Saturday, March 24 at the Grandview Hotel, Wentworth Falls. During the night, old photos and memorabilia will be shown, old friendships revived and memories shared. Around 50 people are expected to attend.

There are other catch-up events are planned for the weekend, which can be seen on the Facebook page – Mt St Mary’s College and Convent, Katoomba.

Mount St Mary’s College was opened by the Sisters of Charity in 1901 in two cottages - Glen Eric and Hillside - on Katoomba Street. Known as Mount St Mary’s Ladies’ College, the college was a day and boarding school for young ladies.

It offered English, French, Latin, German, mathematics, plain and fancy needlework, drawing, painting, wood carving, callisthenics, vocal and instrumental music. The young ladies were prepared for university and musical examinations.

The two buildings soon became inadequate to house the school and a new site was selected near the Court House, to the north of the railway line.

Cardinal Moran laid the foundation stone for the new building in April 1909. The Sisters of Charity moved into their new school and convent at the start of 1910.

The building quickly became a landmark at Katoomba. The convent even had a subdivision estate named after itself: Mount St Mary’s Convent Estate, a total of 22 lots bordering the convent site on Station Street and Bowling Green Avenue, was offered for auction sale by Soper Bros, auctioneers, on April 2, 1923.

In 1920 the college decided only to admit day pupils, however the college was revived as a boarding school in 1926.

During World War II, when the Blue Mountains were viewed as a safe haven, especially for children, the numbers of boarders increased to the previous high level of 80.

The devastating 1957 Leura bushfires led to Mount St Mary’s again becoming a safe haven. The fires had burnt the primary school of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Leura and so Mount St Mary’s opened its doors to the sisters and juniors of this school, along with the sisters from the Little Company of Mary at Leura.

Declining numbers and the introduction of the Higher School Certificate in the 1960s led to grades beyond the School Certificate not being offered.

Efforts were made to boost numbers and consider the role of the school in the district. In 1965, Mount St Mary’s became a regional girls’ school, and in 1967 the college became co-educational, after the closing of St Bernard’s College (there were two Catholic high schools in Katoomba until then).

However, in 1974, Mount St Mary’s College was finally closed. The school was passed to the Sydney Archdiocese which ran the property as a conference centre and camp retreat for a short while.

In the 1980s, the building was restored and converted into The Renaissance Centre, a creative arts centre that lasted a short time. The Edge Cinema complex has been constructed on what used to be the school oval.

For more information about the reunion on March 23-25, contact Bill Gemmell (former student 1971-73) on 0413 761 556.