Santa Maria College provides a Catholic education in the Mercy Tradition. This Mercy Tradition is based on the vision of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.
Catherine lived in Dublin, Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a young woman she saw that many of the people were in need of help: children required education and poor women needed shelter and training. Her vision was to make a difference in the lives of these people. Catherine pursued this vision by using her inherited fortune to build a House of Mercy where such needs could be met.
Sisters of Mercy
To safeguard and continue the work being done at the House of Mercy, Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin on 12 December 1831. During the next decade pioneering Sisters of Mercy set out from Ireland to America, Canada, Newfoundland and Australia to continue Catherine’s work. In January 1846 six of these Sisters and one postulant arrived in Perth to provide Catholic education to the children of the Swan River Colony and to establish the Mercy order in Australia.
Catherine had started what was to become the largest order in the world established by an English speaking founder. Today the Sisters of Mercy and their lay associates throughout the world continue Catherine’s vision of helping those in need through their work in extensive educational, medical, social and pastoral care ministries.
Establishment of Santa Maria College
When the Sisters arrived in Perth in 1846 they opened the first Mercy school in Australia and first Catholic school in Perth. Located on the current site of Mercedes College, Victoria Square education was provided for both day and boarding students.
By the 1930’s demand for boarding places had increased to such an extent that the Mercy Superior decided to build a new school in what was then the bushland of Attadale. A competition was launched in 1936 for the design of the new College. The winning design proposed a Spanish influence to reflect the Sisters connection and arrival with Spanish Benedictines in 1846. The initial structure of the College, today’s administration building without the Chapel on the end, is in this Spanish style but war restrictions prevented the completion of the design.
The College was officially opened on 6 February 1938 with approximately 60 boarders transferred from Victoria Square and only a handful of day pupils. Seven Sisters of Mercy staffed the College. In the years to follow there was a rapid expansion in residential development around Attadale with a resulting growth in student numbers and change from being mainly boarders to day students. This expansion in numbers has continued to the present day with the College having 660 day students and 152 boarders.
Major Developments on the Site
The main administration building in Spanish architectural style was the initial structure. The Chapel was opened in 1956. A new classroom block was added in 1958. The Primary School, as a separate entity, and the four-storey classroom/laboratory block were added in the 1960’s. The McDonald Cultural Centre and the Library/Art/Canteen section were opened in the 1970’s.
In 1973 a rationalization of the local primary schools staffed by the Sisters of Mercy was effected to help Catholic parents. Mel Maria Catholic Primary Complex came into existence as a Systemic, rather than an Order owned school, and continues to operate as such.
More recently, the major development of erecting a completely new residential section for the College was completed in 1981. The new boarding facilities are designed on the modern concept of providing for the needs of adolescent girls in today’s world. Four separate houses are integrated onto the landscaped site, which slopes from the oval down towards the river on Stoneham and Roberts Roads. The names of these houses are Catherine House, Ursula House, Bertrand House and Sylvester House.
In 1986 the Sisters decided to make the Convent available for school purposes. Fortuitously, number 23 Moreing Road, opposite the school gate came on the market and was purchased as the new convent. As well as the convent a new Theatre Arts Centre, Art facility, Library extension and laboratory were built. The main convent building was converted to house the Music Department. These changes freed the Hall to be developed as a gymnasium.
In 1989 the planning for an Education Support Centre, Computing Centre and new swimming pool was completed with the facilities ready for use at the beginning of 1991. In 1997 a new Arts/Science Block was built to provide four new Science laboratories and two art rooms.
In 1999 the existing Canteen was completely renovated while the area at the back of the main teaching block was landscaped.
In the late 1970’s a School Board was established to assist the Sisters in planning and financial matters. This Board saw the beginning of an increasing lay involvement in the College. The Board has continued to develop its role and is now a crucial part of the school’s structure. In 1989 the first lay Principal was appointed, this was the culmination of the process of lay staff involvement which began to gain momentum in the early 1970’s. The continued involvement of the Mercy Sisters is assured by their commitment to the development of lay staff in the Mercy ethos and traditions.
The Patroness of our College is Mary, Mother of God. The crest reflects this with the M in the centre of the shield standing for Mary. The initials ‘SMC’ at the top of the crest stand for Santa Maria College. ‘Santa Maria’ is Spanish for Holy Mary.
The laurel leaves on each side of the shield represent the honour that Mary deserves and the glory that God receives when we live according to His Plan.