Text: Elisabeth Anderson
Images: Elisabeth Anderson, Dominican Sisters
The Catholic school of St Catherine’s in Stirling had its origin in a miniature glasshouse in Ayers Hill Road where, on 18th August 1947, three young primary students began taking lessons from a Dominican teacher named Sister Mary Aquinas.
The glasshouse was part of a large residence named Byethorne, which had been purchased by the Dominican Order of Cumberland Park from the estate of the late George Milne at the end of the previous year, and converted into a Convent, a Juniorate and later a Novitiate, as well as a boarding school facility. It was renamed Mt. St. Catherine and five Dominicans formed the original community.
The first school pupils were two young brothers Michael and Matthew McClelland from nearby Birch Road and Denise Regan of Crafers. But this was just the beginning.
By January 1948, stable buildings on the property had been transformed into three fine, airy, well-lit schoolrooms. A polio epidemic at this time delayed resumption of the school year but classes began on 23rd February 1948. By the end of that year enrolments had grown to 27 and two years on they numbered 80. Ultimately, in more recent times, enrolments would peak at around 200.
Members of an energetic Mothers Club applied themselves with great enthusiasm to support the school in any way they could. Among them were a good number of women who had no children enrolled there. In one of their efforts, with concern for the children’s health, they pre-empted the official school milk scheme by arranging their own milk supply, delivered in a large can to the school.
When growing enrolments began to tax facilities on the convent property, the Catholic community purchased a neighbouring home from the Bickford family in 1962 to allow for school expansion. This property was destined to become the location of St Catherine’s in its entirety nearly two decades later.
As primary schooling progressed, so secondary classes also became available, using spaces within the convent building, and these existed until 1966. Mt. St. Catherine served as a boarding school until 1971 and student numbers flourished.
But the school would also experience some critical years, with changing circumstances, fluctuating numbers and dire financial problems. These were overcome with much determination, hard work and support from the local Catholic community and vital government assistance, enabling new classrooms and later an assembly hall to be built and new enrolments resulting.
After some thought of renovating the stables and associated structures, these buildings were demolished in 1972, though not without some regret as the original structure of Mt Lofty freestone was regarded as being of considerable heritage value.
In 1980, after a local presence of 33 years, the Dominican Sisters sold the convent building and much of its land and returned to Cumberland Park. The school became the responsibility of lay staff and the local Catholic community and it would relinquish the convent name by which it had been known since its inception, but retained the badge and the name of St Catherine.
Whilst much of its property was subdivided for housing, the former convent building was restored to its former self by new owners, and so was the name of Byethorne. The school alongside has continued to move with the times but retains evidence of its Dominican origin.
By Elisabeth Anderson
Author, St Catherine’s Stirling 1947-1997 A School History ISBN 0-646-34563-X
Do you have memories of St Catherine’s School as a student, parent or teacher, or as a local resident? Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.