The History of St Clare’s College Waverley

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The origin of St Clare’s College may be traced back through correspondence in the early 1880’s between the Waverley and Irish Franciscan Friars. Government funding of Church schools ceased with the passage of the Public Education Act in 1880. It was a dilemma for the Waverley Franciscan friars with their responsibility of providing a Catholic education for the increasing number of Catholic children in the young and developing colony. By mid-1882, the Friars had decided to approach the Poor Clare Sisters in Ireland to accept the responsibility of educating these young children in the Franciscan district of Waverley. Incidentally this area spread from Watsons Bay to Botany Bay!

Three Poor Clare Sisters – Teresa Lawless, M Dominic Cunningham and Francisca Sloan from the Newry convent together with the three Poor Clare Sisters – Patrick Murray, Antonia O’Hare and Aloysius O’Hare from the Keady convent made their final farewells in Dublin leaving for Australia on the SS Cuzco on the feast of St Francis of Assisi on 4th October 1883. The Sisters arrived to a great welcome in Sydney on 23rd November 1883 with ‘22 parcels, trunks and hampers’. In their homeland these Sisters were well-known as women of culture and refinement and for their giftedness as educators.

With the arrival of a further eight trunks being a “well chosen collection of books and all requirements for schoolwork” the Sisters began teaching in Waverley in mid January 1884. Significantly, the Sisters had already commenced building St Clare’s School with the laying of the foundation stone in December 1883. It was finally blessed and opened by Archbishop Moran on 28th October 1884 in the presence of a large crowd.

Looking back over a kaleidoscope of events in the founding experience at Waverley, we become aware of the giftedness that the early Poor Clares brought to education in Sydney at this time: tuition in French, German and Italian, Latin and Greek, Mathematics, Music and various cultural subjects. It was not until 1921 though that St Clare’s College was able to obtain its registration under the Bursary Act by which time it was fully equipped for every level of public education.

Significant developments in the history of the College had commenced. The College began with an enrolment of twenty girls with Sister M Teresa Lawless as the first Principal. The school flourished with increasing numbers so that the simple classrooms of 1884 gave way in 1886 to a building originally owned by the Church of England. Extensions were added in 1910. In 1921, St Clare’s College was registered under the Bursary Act. St Clare’s College was rapidly expanding to meet the growing demands of enrolments. In 1929 more classrooms were built with the Assembly Hall opened mid-year 1930. In 1953, another wing was built and dedicated to the pioneer Sisters.

State Aid to Non-Government Schools enabled the construction of the Claverie and O’Sullivan Wings that were to provide science laboratories, a library, staff offices, a computer and sports facilities. In 1983, an adjoining building was purchased and converted to provide Visual Arts and Design and Technology facilities. More recently, the refurbishments of 2000 and 2007 now provide the students and staff with outstanding facilities.

In 1996, the Governing Council of the Poor Clare Sisters incorporated the College as a company with limited liability. This was to ensure that the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ was carried on, with or without the presence of the Poor Clare Sisters in the College.

In 2011, the Poor Clare Sisters, after a long period of discernment, made the decision to hand over the governance of the College to the Archdiocese of Sydney. In 2013, we have started a new chapter in the life of St Clare’s with the College now part of the Archdiocesan System of Schools. Moving forward, the College will retain its strong Franciscan focus and maintain its links with the Poor Clare Sisters and their traditions.

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