The History of Dominican Convent School
In the year 1895 the need for a school was realised in ‘old’ Bulawayo as with the rapid growth of the new township there was a surprisingly large number of European school age children. The Jesuit Fathers Kerr and Daignault were most anxious that the sisters should open a school.
Dominican Convent School is the oldest school in Bulawayo as the sisters opened it on Monday the 28th of October 1895, with ten pupils in the wood and iron chapel which they rented from the Jesuit Fathers. On the second day of school, 22 children attended lessons. The school was situated between 10th and 11th Avenues along Fort St (where the present day Immigration Offices are).
By 11 November, less than a month after the school had opened, there nearly forty children. The desks were packed full. It was then apparent that further accommodation was needed and Father Daignault placed the house which he had built for himself at the disposal of the sisters.
Sr. Sebastian Hill and Sr. Pancratius were assigned the task of teaching the children while the other nursing Sisters would assist, when they had time, with the social, spiritual and cultural needs of the children. Sr. Sebatian Hill was the first Headmistress of the school and she would give gifts to the pupils at the close of the term and this attracted a large number of pupils to join the school.
These sisters dedicated their lives to bring up the youths according to their Motto “Veritas” Truth. They contributed a lot to the moral, spiritual growth and the formation of character of the young people.
The Dominican School has been based on Christian values, morals and principles. The curriculum involved writing on slates, and the church benches made by Mr Nason were as desks, reading, arithmetic, piano lessons, choir practice and games like cricket.
Just before schools closed in December of 1895, Mother Jacoba gave the children a party in which each child received a present and invited parents and friends were treated to a little concert, tea and cake.
After only a week’s holiday, school reopened in January 1896, with seventy children enrolled. Fr Barthelemy S.J. taught the older boys, above standard 2, in the priests house and these few pupils formed the nucleus of St. Georges College.
The British South Africa Company had given the Dominican Sisters several acres of ground, bounded on one side by today’s Lobengula St, between 9th and 10th avenues, on the condition that the area be used for a school. In February 1896, Mother Jacoba wrote to Mother Patrick:”The plans for the schoolhouse are out and will be in the hands of the tenderers for the next few days. The estimate are about £1 500.” She also asked Mother Patrick to approach government for a grant. The School plans also included boarding facilities and this then became an integral part of the school.
During the Matebele Revolt in March 1896, the school carried on with the children being escorted to and from the laager in the Market Square by police. The uprising saw a period of great financial depression which caused the an exodus of the settlers with their children and a consequent drop in the numbers of pupils. Despite this, the foundation stone was laid by Mrs Lawley on 9 November 1897.
In 1898 they moved into the completed school house, a single storey building, with two front rooms and a large hall, sleeping accommodation for the sisters and boarders, a kitchen, laundry and storeroom. Katey and Bertha Austin were the first boarders, followed shortly by 5 other girls.
In 1899, light was used for the first time during a concert to mark the opening of the school. During the next eighteen months a second-story dormitory was added. In 1909 a double-storey wing, known as the Boy’s House was added and included a Kitchen. Boys attended the convent up to Standard 2 until 1953, when St. Thomas Aquinas School was opened.
The early benefactors of the the school were Colonel and Mrs Heyman, Mr. And Mrs. Colenbrander, Captains Knapp and White, Mr. Cloag, Mr and Mrs Bateman and Dr. Vigne.
In 1910 the Convent was reported to be the largest school in Rhodesia, with 218 pupils whose nationalities included Russian, German, French, Italian and Dutch. Father Goetz (after whom the meteorological observatory in Bulawayo was named), a brilliant scientist was involved with the Convent as an examination invigilator.
In 1911, a school known as St. Patricks’ opened after Solemn Benediction on May the 29th. The school was divided into two classrooms, one for the African and one for the Coloured pupils. The first teachers were Dominican Sisters, namely Sisters Andrea and Eleonora who had about fifty children in their care.