St Mary’s College is the oldest existing secondary school for girls in Auckland and one of the oldest existing schools in New Zealand. It was established by a group of pioneering Sisters of Mercy who arrived from Ireland on 9 April 1850. Bishop Pompallier was instrumental in bringing the sisters at the behest of the local Maori women and many Irish migrants to Auckland. The local Maori women asked him to bring ‘wahine tapu’ or sacred women to teach their girls, which the Sisters of Mercy have honoured ever since. They have always embraced children, who had the need of a Catholic education, from a diverse range of cultures.
The Sisters began their teaching of students the day after their arrival in a building on the site of the present St Patrick’s Cathedral in Wynyard Street, Auckland. They quickly outgrew this building and in 1859 were gifted the land called Mount St Mary’s where the convent and school still stand today.
The school has had many changes to its structure during the years, which included infant classes and the attendance of boys until 1948. There are a number of families that can trace their connection to the school back six generations or more.
St Mary’s has always had a high quality of teaching staff from the first sisters to arrive in 1850 to the present day. Mother Cecilia Maher from the beginning was determined that students would have a good general education as well as the Catholic teachings.
St Mary’s College Timeline
1850 Sisters arrive from Ireland and start teaching the next day.
1852 School and orphanage moved to Hobson Street and site that is now the Heritage Hotel, but for many years was known as the Farmers Department Store.
1863 Convent, school and orphanage moved to New Street, Ponsonby.
1864 New classrooms were finished that ran parallel to New Street.
1877 The school was known as St Mary’s High School.
1900 Golden Jubilee.
1917 Name change to St Mary’s College. A science department established.
1929 New Spanish style boarding school, classrooms and hall built.
1935 Establishment of the Old Girls’ Association.
1939 Tennis courts completed.
1949 Music school established in Stella Marist House.
1950 Centenary of establishment of the school.
1951 New Prefabs for the primary classes.
1955 Wooden classrooms to house the commercial classes.
1956 Upgrading of sports facilities, provision of tennis courts and opening of an enclosed swimming pool.
1962 New Science Block named Mother Bernard Towers Block (BT Block) after the former science teacher. The old block adjacent to New Street was demolished.
1963 First full-time lay teacher appointed, Miss Lorraine Brooks
1967 PTFA formed.
1975 125th anniversary of the establishment of the school.
1978 Mother Benedict Block opened.
1982 Integration into the State Education system completed.
1987 Cecilia Maher Hall was built and the grounds for sports upgraded.
1989 Sister Mary Neven was the only Sister on the academic staff.
1995 The remaining part of the old Spanish-style block was remodelled.
2000 150th Jubilee celebrated.
2004 Catherine McAuley Block phase one was blessed and opened by Bishop Pat Dunn.
2005 The new staffroom, Technology Block and Veronica Delany Library were completed.
2005 Coolock House closed as a boarding house and began its renovation to become the Mercy Hospice.
2007 Phase two of the Catherine McAuley Block was completed.
2007 The maximum roll of 800 was reached.
2008 Student Cafeteria opened and refurbishment of the swimming pool and tennis courts.
2011 Sr Loreto Block officially opened.
2014 Paul Keane gymnasium opened.
2015 Celebration of 150 years of St Mary’s College at the New Street site.
2016 Ground broken for the new Science Block.
Today, the school has a diverse student body that reflects the city in which we live. The principles of the Sisters of Mercy are still the guiding light by which the school moves forward.