About Mercy Catholic College

The Birth of a Parish

Today, busy Archer Street, with its sophisticated shopping complex, Chatswood Chase, and multi-million-dollar Catholic Church and educational facilities is a far cry from the Chatswood of the 1800’s.

Previously known as Kings Plains the area was a flourishing orchard and market garden district. In January 1890, Chatswood station platform was opened thereby heralding the rapid change which has brought about the thriving city that it is today.

The First Catholic School (1890)

The Catholic Church acquired property in Archer Street in 1888. In 1890, to serve the needs of the fast-growing Catholic population of the district, a small parochial church was established and became known as Our Lady of Dolours. This building also became the first Catholic school in Chatswood. On the site of the present day Our Lady of Dolours Primary School the original church/school was initially conducted by a secular teacher, then in the years that followed two Sisters of Mercy travelled by horse and carriage daily from Pymble (then known as Gordon) to teach in the school. Later the Sisters travelled by train but transport was difficult as trains left the station at long intervals. If the Sisters missed the 4pm train home they had a very long wait for the next. Their alternative was to walk home about five miles through the bush. Sometimes the local grocer would drive them home in his little dog-cart jolting along the rough road. However, this caused less fatigue to the Sisters than the long walk.

On the southern side of the church/school was a Chinese market garden which was a great source of worry to the sisters. Water and sugar melons grew very close to the fence which made them a great temptation to the boys. The gardener understandably kept a close watch, but when the lads got the better of him he would chase them armed with a gun charged with saltpetre as they ran off with some of his prized melons.

New additions were carried out to this church/school in 1901. At the opening and blessing of these additions it was reported in the “Catholic Press” (November 16, 1901)."the day would not be far distant when Father Kirby, who had done so much for the district, would come to lay the foundation stone of a new church on higher ground. It was only a few years since Chatswood was a wilderness, yet it had expanded and would continue to expand the time was not far off when the present church would be used only as a Catholic school – and a good school it would make, too”.

A small cottage had been purchased in the previous year, 1900, and four Sisters came into residence, and so began the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Chatswood.

St Catherine’s High School (1905)

St Catherine’s High School opened in January, 1905. The following description appeared in the “Catholic Press” (January 12, 1905): “The new High School occupies a splendid position in Archer Street alongside the convent. The building is a very handsome one designed in the Renaissance style of architecture. It is of red-faced bricks, tuck pointed, the roof being of red tiles. Its dimensions are 60ft x 23ft, the height from the floor to the ceiling, which is lined and polished Kauri, being 16 feet. The foundations are of concrete; there is accommodation for 200 persons, and the entrance porches give the building a very imposing appearance. Much attention has been given to light and ventilation, there being twelve large windows. There is a stage 20ft x 23ft at the upper end of the building. The school is well finished on the whole and is surrounded by a roomy playground. The architects were Messrs Sheerin and Hennessey, and the contractor was Mr D J Glacken of North Sydney.

A statement of accounts was read at the opening by Rev Father M Kirby which showed that the total debt on the building was £565.

Sister M Scholastica recalls:

“I entered the convent on 21st April 1926 aged 18 as a postulant, taught at Monte Sant’ Angelo’s Infants School then in 1928 I taught 4th class. My training continued at Lavender Bay school and in 1930 I was appointed to Chatswood. As I was the most junior member of the congregation at the Convent at that time it was my job to go and fetch the wood for the chip heater. Back and forth I would go, bringing the wood to the Convent door where a more senior Sister would take it from them and store it inside”.It was also reported in more recent years by one of the Sisters that there had been a pond at the back of the convent where frogs used to croak during the night.

From 1905 the above-mentioned convent and school were listed in the Rate Books as a “house and school”. Later, the house “Elysee”, belonging to the O’Shea family, wine merchants, was purchased at the south corner of Malvern Avenue and Archer Street. In 1910 the Nolan family, who were staunch supporters of the church, built a house on the south side of the school.

The parish of Our Lady of Dolours was established in 1910 and two years later Sister M Margaret O’Neill was appointed Supervisor of Chatswood Convent.

The opening of the Presbytery, built to house the priests of the parish at the time, took place on 7th March 1918. Two priests took up occupancy including the first parish priest, the Rev W Barry (later to become Bishop of Hobart). The building still serves this purpose today.

The pneumonic ‘flu took a terrible toll on lives in 1919. White gauze masks had to be worn as a protection. Schools, picture theatres etc. were all closed and many schools opened as soup kitchens. If the ‘flu was in your home you would be given a yellow flag to put in your front window for everyone to see. A billycan would be placed outside the front door to be filled with soup. Many people died from the same street, and they were buried in flat, rough, wooden coffins which were collected by horses and drays for the funerals.

During the 1920’s bread was delivered by horse and cart. The greengrocer called twice weekly. Sometimes the old horse would fall asleep and collapse, upsetting the cart and scattering fruit and vegetables everywhere. Grocers would call for orders in their sulkies or on bicycles and deliver the goods the following day by horse-drawn van. Ice carts would call daily to replenish ice supplies needed for the “Ice Chests”.

The foundation stone for a new church situated on the corner of Kirk and Archer Streets was blessed on 18th April, 1920 by His Grace, the Archbishop of Hobart, Most Rev. W. Barry, former parish priest of Chatswood. The church was completed in the following year and the opening took place 21st August 1921.