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70 years of History at Brigidine College St Ives

On February 9, 1954, Brigidine College St Ives opened its doors to nine students. With a single building surrounded by 10 acres of trees and orchards, it was this tranquil location that appealed to the Brigidine Sisters, with plans to build a new and thriving community on the North Shore.

Brigidine College with Tennis Courts 1954
College with Tennis Courts 1954. Photo: Brigidine College St Ives Archives

The Brigidine Sisters arrived in Australia from Ireland in 1883 and with a history in education they set about opening schools across the country. Since 1901 the Sydney community had been based in Randwick with a school, convent and novitiate, providing space for Sisters to teach, live and learn; and as their numbers flourished the Brigidines began to think about another convent.

Brigidine College Novitiate study room 1960.
Novitiate study room 1960. Photo: Brigidine College St Ives Archives, Frank Gardner Collection.

Moving to the North Shore

Towards the end of 1939, the parish priest, Father Downey, invited the Brigidines to take over the Holy Family of Nazareth school at Lindfield from the Monte Sant’ Angelo Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. 

Holy Family provided education for Kindergarten to Intermediate (Year 9) and with increasing demand in the upper years, the Sisters began to develop plans for a senior school in the leafy North Shore, which could also provide a setting conducive to spiritual reflection.

In 1949, seven acres of land in St Ives became available for £3500. With a further three acres encompassing the corner lot of Woodbury and Mona Vale Roads purchased in 1951, it was believed ‘most suitable from every point of view’. 

The natural environment and seclusion that St Ives could provide, being just 4kms from Holy Family Lindfield, walking distance to the Passionist Fathers’ monastery and with the Jesuits only a few kilometres away in Pymble, the Brigidines felt they would be well supported in the area.

Owned by the Gaukrodger family (who operated an abattoir and later an orchard from the property, along with a butchery in Pymble), the Gaukrodgers continued to live on Woodbury Road and in a cottage within the school grounds for some years after the college opened. Although some in St Ives may have been hoping for a train connecting Gordon to Pittwater, the Brigidine Sisters were established in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and students there had always caught the bus to school.

Gillott’s Bus Service
Gillott’s Bus Service on Mona Vale Road, St Ives. Photo: Ku-ring-gai Library

Building a Community

St Ives was clearly a semi-rural suburb undergoing rapid urbanisation when local artist and Brigidine parent Margaret Coen moved to the area in the early 1950s, “Horses came and ate out of the front garden, and it was so close to the bush, we were practically in it… Most of the roads weren’t tarred. The kids rode billy-carts down the hill to the dairy at the bottom of Killeaton Street and went exploring the creek that made its way through the bush to Bobbin Head. The gas wasn’t on, or the sewerage… No shopping centre; there were only a few shops strung along Mona Vale Road: Malo’s fruit shop, the delicatessen, Gillott’s garage next door to the Post Office. Further up on the other side were Steward’s the butcher and Ekas the chemist.” (Gathering Strength)

With the first day of school approaching quickly, four Sisters moved to St Ives into an unfinished building. Accepting help from their new neighbours, who cooked their evening meals until the gas could be connected, and with builders continuing to work around them, they taught students outdoors, whilst painters continued inside. 

Pioneer students recall scraping mud from their shoes to enter the school building in the first few months of the college opening. It was a humble foundation that built not only the school, but the community values that Brigidine College St Ives thrives on today.

St Ives Convent 1960s
St Ives Convent 1960s. Photo: Brigidine College St Ives Archives.

In the following years, new primary schools were established in Narraweena (St John the Apostle, 1961) and Forestville (Our Lady of Good Counsel, 1962) and at St Ives with a focus on academics, music and success in sport. Backed by the Brigidine motto, Fortiter et Suaviter (strength and gentleness), the student population grew to over 500 students by the mid-1980s and multiple classroom blocks spanned the ample grounds.

Despite this expansion in 1989, the difficult decision was made to sell land from the back of the College, which was subdivided into twenty residential housing blocks now known as ‘The Cloisters’. This sale enabled the Brigidine Sisters to fund their move into smaller home communities over subsequent years and with the last Brigidines moving out of the convent in May 1994, this provided a future pathway for the St Ives Convent to become the modern-day administrative centre of the school.

Education for the Future

In 2014, Kildare Ministries was formed as a governing body for 10 schools, including Brigidine College St Ives, and three community endeavours. The ministries included educational and social justice works managed by a committee of trustees.

This year, 2024, Brigidine College celebrates 70 years in St Ives. As a non-selective school, the College prides itself on providing a holistic education for girls, combining the spiritual, academic, physical and cultural dimensions of learning. Brigidine girls enjoy excellent academic results, a high level of achievement in the performing arts and sport, and a strong commitment to service. 

With completion due in mid-2025, building has commenced on the Master Plan to upgrade and enhance teaching and learning facilities at the College, and includes an outdoor sports court and indoor sporting facility.


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