The history of Our Lady’s school in Sunshine dates back to 1919 when Father John Carney quickly realised the urgent need for a Catholic school. He lost no time in proceeding with the work and the school was built at a cost of just over 366 pounds. His Grace, Dr Daniel Mannix, the Archbishop of Melbourne opened the school on the 12th of October 1919.
Miss Mary Archer was the school’s first official principal from 1919 to 1921. In 1919 the school had 48 students. Miss Archer worked tirelessly at the school for two years and was remembered as a tall, well-dressed woman who taught the students songs and plays that they would perform in the town hall. Miss Archer lived in the city and travelled to Our Lady’s school by steam train.
In 1921 Miss Archer married and the second principal Miss Catherine Mc Mahon was appointed. Miss McMahon remained at the school for seven years and is remembered as being a dedicated and effective teacher. Each day she would choose an article from The Age Newspaper for use as a dictation piece for Grade 6, 7 and 8. Miss McMahon was very respected by the community and worked hard to provide an excellent education for all students who attended Our Lady’s School.
During her time the school grew from the original 48 students to 112 students.
The opening of the School Hall in 1926 by Archbishop Daniel Mannix was a grand event attended by many students and parishoners.
In 1927, the Parish of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was formed and Father Pat Fennessy was appointed the first Parish Priest. Father Fennessy described as a very spiritual man, is pictured here in 1927 with first communion students. Father Fennessy served Our Lady’s from 1927 to 1935. In 1933 he and the Sisters of St. Joseph built a new brick school along what is now Monash street to cater for the growing number of students.
In 1928, The Catholic Church acquired property next to the school and renovated it in preparation for the imminent arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sister Mildred Duncan (Superior), Sister Leo Byrne and Sister Eustace took up residence in the new convent. Sister Mildred became the first religious principal of Our Lady’s school which she served from 1928 to 1934.
A talented artist, Sister Mildred often raffled her work to raise money for the financially struggling school. The community of sisters quickly grew from 3 to 20 and they often taught classes of over 100.
A major setback for the parish and the school was in 1939 when the timber church burnt down. Father Ryder who was Parish Priest at the time ran in to get the Blessed Sacrament. Father Ryder established the Tennis courts behind the church for use by the school and parish.
A new brick church was blessed and opened in 1941 by Archbishop Mannix. The new church was made in the Englsih Gothic style. Archbishop Mannix had this to say about the new church, “The new Church in Sunshine is a fine addition to the Churches of the diocese. I hope that God’s blessing will come down in abundance upon you all. You have reason to be proud of all that has been achieved here.
By 1945 the school’s population had grown to 262 students. The Sisters of St.Joseph worked hard, providing the students with a good education as well as serving the community.
In 1950 the number of students attending Our Lady’s school rose dramatically from 369 to 623. There were students from Year Prep to Year 8 attending the school.
The enrolments continued to rise throughout the 1950’s until in 1957 they reached 1075 students. The school was changing and becoming more multi-cultural with the influx of families from post war European nations. The school became so overcrowded that the Parish hall and the tennis pavilion were used as classrooms.
Father Eagan the Parish Priest at the time purchased land in Station Place and, with voluntary labour who over 26 weekends, in 1952 built two classrooms. These two classrooms have been extensively renovated and are still in use at the school in 2019.
The number of staff at Our Lady’s school rose to 14 Sisters of St. Joseph. At that time religious sisters staffed the school.
On the 25th of September 1958 Archbishop Simonds opened further new classrooms. The then Parish Priest Father Murphy had decided to add another storey onto the existing school building. He dedicated the new building to Father Egan the previous parish priest who died suddenly before their completion. It is still to this day called the Father Egan Memorial Building. The new classrooms helped to more comfortably accommodate the huge number of enrolments.
In 1987 Father Brendan Lane became Parish Priest and oversaw enormous changes to the school buildings made possible by the acquisition of the lane which separated the convent and school sites. He also acquired land along Station Street which was used by the parish but eventually the school’s needs were considered greater. It is because of Father Lane and the parishioners of the time that the school was able to grow and develop into the wonderful educational facility that it is today. Father Lane left Our Lady’s in 1996 leaving behind a great legacy.
1996 saw the arrival of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Father Lewy Keelty was the new Parish Priest accompanied by Father Harry Dyer and Father Vin McGillicuddy who settled well into the parish and school. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate contributed greatly to the improvement of the school’s facilities with renovations and new buildings occurring throughout their time at Our Lady’s school. They left the school in 2015 having accomplished much and leaving a school community which was very grateful for their vision and generosity.
The school and parish waved a sad good-bye to the much-loved Sisters of St. Joseph in 2000, when the sisters moved out of the convent in Station Place. A wonderful celebration was held in their honour and was attended by many of the sisters who had taught at the school or worked in the parish. Sister Eileen King was the last Sister of St. Joseph to be principal of Our Lady’s school. In 1999 she completed the building of a new Junior Block consisting of 6 new classrooms and a new toilet block. Sister Eileen left Our Lady’s school in February 2001, bringing to a close 72 years of Catholic education and service to the school community by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Our Lady’s school will always honour and be grateful for the Sisters of St. Joseph. They have left an inspirational legacy and their charism continues to live on at Our Lady’s school.
On the 1st of March 2003, Mr Peter Moore was officially appointed principal of Our Lady’s school after serving as Acting Principal for nearly a year. He was the first lay male principal of the school. Father Harry Dyer OMI who was the Parish Priest at the time and Mr Peter Moore realised the need to improve the facilities at the school and quickly acted.
A much-needed new administration building was built on the site where the original convent had stood in Station Place. The convent could not be saved as its structural integrity was beyond repair. Two new classrooms, an Art room and a Planning Room were also added. The school was changing rapidly and the new amenities were welcomed by students, parents and staff.
In 2009 with Father John Maher OMI as Parish Priest, Mr Moore completely refurbished the old and dilapidated school hall. During the refurbishment, extra doors and windows were added, allowing much needed light to enter the space. The old flat at the back was demolished and replaced with a modern and functional kitchen. This historic building was given a new lease of life and became once again a wonderful asset to the school.
On June 9th 2010, the Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop Learning Centre was completed. Mr Peter Moore dedicated this building to Mary MacKillop in acknowledgement of the dedicated service of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The educational vision of the principal at the time Mr Peter Moore was to build a building that would meet the needs of the students well into the 21st century. The building incorporated the Mary MacKillop Library, an ICT studio and the Father John Maher Auditorium.
Later, the principal Mr Peter Moore dedicated and named the auditorium after Father John Maher (OMI), a much-loved Parish Priest at the time who sadly passed away very suddenly. The Saint Mary MacKillop Learning Centre is a lasting legacy which will be enjoyed by the Our Lady’s school community for decades to come.
In October 2012 the current principal Ms Patrizia Bertani was appointed principal of Our Lady’s school. Father Peter Hoang OMI was Parish Priest at the time. Father Peter was the last Oblate of Mary Immaculate to serve at Our Lady’s school. He moved on from Our Lady’s school in 2015. Father Peter Damien McKinley was appointed Parish Priest in 2016 and continues to lead Our Lady’s Parish and School.
Today the school’s enrolment is 363 students with a staff of 43 including teachers, Specialist teachers, a psychologist, speech pathologist, Education Support Officers, Administration team, Canteen Managers, Maintenance and Cleaning team. Our Lady’s has flourished over the decades and with the grace of God we hope that it will always continue to do so.
Ms Bertani and her staff were committed to making sure that the rich faith history of the school be kept alive and thus came the idea for a memorial garden dedicated to the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The garden has iris flowers, olive trees and rosemary as well as red roses, it is a place of prayer, peace and contemplation for students and their families to enjoy. We have placed a plaque commemorating and honouring the 72 years of service given to the school by the Sisters of St. joseph and the 20 years of service by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The school has always been a welcoming community. Welcoming new arrivals from all around the world. In 2019 it has continued to grow in its diversity and now has families from four continents Australia, Europe, Asia and South America. Our Lady’s school continues its 100 year tradition of providing an education of the highest standard for all students.