– compiled by Mrs Hammond
Visit to Witbank
In July, 1922 Mother Lucy Kaltenstadler came to Witbank, at the request of Monsignor Kauzcor, to examine the site acquired by Mr. E.A. Harvey for the erection of a Convent School. The site was a barren rock-strewn hillside, situated in the centre of a growing new town. Mother Lucy, accompanied by Sister Ligouri Connellan and Miss May Barry, went to examine the site. The three were sitting on a big rock when Mother Lucy suddenly stood up and said,
“You two stay here – I want to be alone to make this decision.”
Mother Lucy walked around praying for guidance while her two companions prayed for a favorable decision. After 40 minutes Mother Lucy returned and said,
God has brought us to Witbank. I believe it is His Will that we come here. We will come.”
A suitable architect and contractor were found and building operations commenced without delay, for it was hoped to open the school on 22nd July 1924.
The Convent School buildings were duly erected – a double-story building, the second ever to be erected in Witbank. When it became known that the Earl of Athlone and his consort were to visit the town, one of the leading Catholics, Mr. J. McKenna suggested that His Excellency the Governor General should be asked to open the School. Mother Lucy agreed and so Mr. Corlett and his team speeded up construction to be ready by 15th June, thus anticipating the date by more than a month.
On 26th May a party of Sisters arrived from Belgravia to prepare for the official opening. Rev. Mother Lucy came a week later bringing Sisters from King William’s Town, and on the 15th June the new Convent School was opened by His Excellency the Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice. The Governor General was handed a gilded key with which he unlocked the door at the main entrance and then declared the St Thomas Aquinas Convent open.
At the beginning of the third term, 22nd July 1924, 30 pupils were admitted, but the number had increased to 42 by the end of the term. By the end of the year there were 51 and the numbers steadily increased. St Thomas Aquinas School was not only one of the first two-story buildings in town, but also the first High School. It offered the first Commercial Courses in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga) as well as the Joint Matriculation Board and the College of Preceptors Examinations.
Under the patronage of St Thomas, the brilliant Dominican scholar, the nuns strove to provide excellent tuition as well as imbue their charges with sound Christian principles.
St Thomas Aquinas School, from its earliest days, has encouraged children to achieve in every aspect of their lives and this also included sport. The first tennis court was acquired through the efforts of Mr. Hamlin in 1926. Other branches of sport such as hockey, netball, softball, swimming, etc were also provided for.
On 21st September Right Rev. Monsignor Aloysius Mohn, F.S.C., blessed the foundation stone for a new chapel.
1939 – 1945
The war years
During the war years the school did very valuable work. Numerous parcels were dispatched, through the Red Cross Society, to those who needed them at the front. The girls also took part in a knitting competition:
“At present everybody is helping to finish the knitting for the Navy League competition. We are knitting twelve jerseys (miniature blankets) and over 20 pairs of socks. Ours is the only school in Witbank taking parting this competition. Perhaps, we may win a few prizes here, too, in spite of the many competing schools on the Rand.” THE SILVER STAR, 1945
The girls from St Thomas went on to win the competition:
“On 4th September, 1945, we heard the good news that our girls had won the knitting competition organised by the navy League for the Transvaal High Schools.” THE SILVER STAR, 1946
Large contributions were sent to U.N.C.A., and War Funds, and woolen clothes to children in Europe after The War. It can thus be said that St Thomas Aquinas has a distinguished ‘war record’.
1948 – 1951
The school grows…
As the number of pupils increased the original School building was proving too small. The new building was planned in 1948, by Mr. H. Geigenberger and his partners. On 2nd September, 1951, the new school building was opened by the Mayor of Witbank, Mr. Duffy , and the old classrooms were converted into additional dormitories for the boarders.
As the new school building had been built on the tennis courts we were without courts for several years. Our neighbour, Mrs. Moore, and the municipality kindly allowed us to play on their courts until, at last, two new courts were built on our vacant stand along Elizabeth Avenue.
The parent-teacher association (PTA)
An important milestone in the history of the school was the formation of the Parent-Teachers Association in September, 1957, with Messrs D. Horsfall and Finnegan as foundation members, under the auspices of His Lordship Bishop Reiterer who had always had the welfare of this school at heart. Our P.T.A. has since then grown in strength and has become an indispensable moral and financial support.
Thanks to the help of the P.T.A. we now have a swimming-coach, Mrs. Taylor, a tennis-coach, Mrs. Stewart, who is also the basketball and tennisette coach.” THE SILVER STAR, 1958
On 30th October, the first number of the school magazine “The Veritas” was published by the Matrics in conjunction with the local Committee of the Old Girls’ Association.
Little did I know when late in 1959 the ‘Old Girls’ suggested a Convent Annual Magazine consisting of contributions from the scholars themselves, that “VERITAS” would prosper and blossom into such a praiseworthy seventh issue in 1966!” Editorial by Selma Kourie. VERITAS, 1966
The opening of the tennis courts
Two new tennis courts were constructed for us by the P.T.A. The opening of the courts was held on the 12th March, when the girls played a friendly against Ermelo Convent. The opening was attended by the Mother General of the Dominican Order from King Williams Town who was in Witbank at the time Mr. L. Watterton, Chairman of the P.T.A., and Mr. B. Finnegan, the previous Chairman, among others.
Mr. Finnegan officially opened the two courts and the Witbank and Ermelo Captains played the first balls. The day was enjoyed by all and St Thomas were proud to announce that they had won the day’s tennis.
The P.T.A. held a fête on the 11th and the proceeds amounting approximately to £160, went to the new tennis courts. We are grateful to the Chairman and Committee for all they are doing for the school.” THE SILVER STAR, 1961
Our sports grounds now comprised the hockey-field which had been laid out in the 1940’s under Mother Evarista’s supervision, four tennis courts, four tennis courts and one practicing court.
1962 – 1963
The swimming pool
In 1962 our P.T.A. undertook to build a swimming pool. Excavation work commenced in July and the ‘bath’ was ready for use before the end of October; a lasting monument to Mr. Weidner, a major sponsor, and our P.T.A.
The official opening was held on 11th November 1963, after the construction of the grand stands and the permanent shelter.
Several Catholic schools attended the Opening Gala. Rev. Father Kühner opened the proceedings by blessing the ‘bath’ and the grounds. At half-time, Mr. Watterton introduced Rev. Mother General who then opened the ‘bath’.
We all enjoyed ourselves and we were most grateful to our school and our splendid P.T.A. who had given us a swimming bath. The inscription at the entrance to the bath reads: To the honour and glory of God, the Peter Weidner Swimming Bath has been erected by the Parent- Teacher’s Association, 1962. “so much owed by so many to so few.”’ THE SILVER STAR, 1964
1966 – 1967
The school hall
In 1966 Mother Redempta, with the financial aid of Rev. Mother General, embarked on a major building programme when she instructed Mr. Conway to build a school hall and a junior block for the grades classes and Std. 1. As a result the old hall could be converted into two additional classrooms and the grades rooms into a modern science lab. The school hall which was completed at the end of the year was Dedicated to St Dominic.
The PTA – Ten Years On
Excerpt from the Chairman’s Report:
… Ten years ago Sister Cyril with the aid of Bishop Rieterier and some enthusiastic parents called the inaugural meeting under the chairmanship of Mr. B.J. Finnegan to lay down the foundation of what is today a successful organization.
From these humble beginnings in September 1957, a strong and virile association has worked through its objects of promoting scholastic, sporting and extra mural activities and has created good fellowship, understanding and cooperation between parents, teachers and scholars. It has also created a common meeting ground for all interested in the work of the school.
Fundraising has of necessity been an important function and just on 14 000 has been spent on improving and creating facilities. A few of the more important accomplishments are:
- The building of a modern swimming bath with ancillary facilities.
- Two extra tennis courts.
- A grand piano for the new hall
- Book bursaries
- Merry-go-round for the children in the grades
- Creating new science facilities
And many other items too numerous to mention. …
… The industrialisation of the Witbank area will bring with it many problems and the Association will consequently be called upon to play a much bigger part to meet the challenge of girls wanting the best education. In anticipation of this challenge the Association is at present drawing up plans to build and equip a modern science laboratory to cater for the ever growing demand for expert tuition in science. …” J. F. Slaven, Chairman VERITAS, 1967/8
The new science block
As scientific subjects gained increasing importance in the school curriculum the nuns, with the help of Anglo-American and the P.T.A., took steps to provide the school with a modern science block. It was a great day for the school when the new science block was opened by Mr. Nicholson on 29th February.
The saints came marching in
On the 7th October the School held its first “Big Walk”. The distance walked was a grueling 18 km. The event was organized by the P.T.A. and still remains a popular fundraiser.
Our Golden Jubilee
In 1974 St Thomas Aquinas School celebrated its Golden Jubilee. The Jubilee celebrations coincided with the 700th Anniversary celebrations in honour of St Thomas Aquinas. The enrolment figure stood at 340 learners and the staff consisted of 16 members with three music teachers.
Centenary of The ‘King’ Dominicans
On 14th September, 1877, Mother Mauritia and five other Sisters left Germany to come to South Africa and work among the German Settlers in King William’s Town. Since then, over a thousand young women have consecrated their lives to God in the ranks of the Dominican Sisters of King William’s Town. As the numbers in the community increased, the call for their services in other places became more insistent. The Sisters were called to open convents at Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Queenstown, Ermelo, Brakpan, Springs, and many other places, least of which being Witbank.
We thank the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena of King Williams Town for their hard work and dedication.
The first microcomputers
During the course of the year the school decided to purchase four Microcomputers in order to generate computer awareness in the girls. Working with the computers was limited to the members of the computer club who met weekly under the direction of a parent.
… we do hope that we will be able to acquire more computers so that a whole class can benefit from this type of teaching, and become acquainted with and enthusiastic about computers.” Sr. M. Aloysia, Principal’s Report VERITAS, 1983
St Thomas Aquinas and the BBC
St Thomas Aquinas School captured the attention of millions of people worldwide. After the airing of a BBC documentary on 16th March, the school received an avalanche of letters, from many viewers throughout the western world – England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and even Hong Kong. The subject of the documentary was Multi Racial Education. St Thomas Aquinas School was one of the few rays of hope in bringing about openness and understanding of the different races and cultures in South Africa.
The St Thomas Aquinas School Houses were Calaroga and Roccasecca. In March, a much needed new house was introduced, Siena. House members were soon displaying yellow badges on their lapels.
The houses compete in various competitions throughout the year, the gala and inter-house quiz for example, upholding the spirit of the school and encouraging the children to compete… and succeed.
St Thomas Aquinas Enters the Computer Age…
At the beginning of this year the school invested in a network of computers comprising sixteen pupils’ work stations and two teachers’ terminals. Pupils from Gr. 1 to Std. 7 came to grips with the Sergo Maths Course, which was correlated to the school syllabus. Computer Science was introduced for the senior pupils. Other programs included Logo and Writing Assistant which provided the younger pupils with the satisfaction of seeing their individual writing efforts in print and gave the senior pupils the chance to complete projects in a professional manner.
In 1992, St Thomas Aquinas School became one of the first in the country to start teaching Accounting on the computer. The school acquired a program with accounting exercises for all pupils from Std 6 – 10.
… And the boys came marching In
“Your Board of Governors upholds the schools values. The need to take boys beyond Std. 2 has been examined and the board of governors has decided to answer it by allowing boys into Std 3 next year.” Sr. Margaret, Principal’s Report VERITAS, 1990
By the end of the decade St. Thomas Aquinas School would become a fully integrated co-ed school.
After months of anticipation the four and five year olds, in the schools pre-primary phase, moved into their new class rooms during May of this year. On 20th June, Sr. Bridget Kelly O.P., Co-ordinator of Schools of King William’s Town Dominican Sisters, unveiled the plaque at the official opening ceremony.
The first democratic elections
In keeping with its proud tradition of making history, St Thomas Aquinas School allowed the school hall to be used for South Africa’s First Democratic Elections. On 27th April of this year voters came to cast their ballots without incident.
When I went to vote, I gazed up at the crucifix and the Dominican shield looking down at the voters, observers and officials and I knew we had done the right thing .” Sr. Margaret, Principal’s Report VERITAS, 1994
Our 75th Jubilee
The anniversary of the school was celebrated in style this year on Fun Day. The highlight of the event was the arrival of the ‘Earl of Athlone’ and ‘Princess Alice’ – better known as Mr. Middleton and Mrs. Bekker – suitably attired in period costumes and riding in a vintage car. They were greeted by ‘Mother Lucy’ (Sr. Lucia) to re-enact the opening ceremony of the school.
Boys Enter Matric for the First Time
History was made once again when boys entered matric for the first time.
When St Thomas Aquinas was founded in 1924 as an all-girls school, never did the Dominican sisters think that there would be “male species” slowly but surely making their way through to matric 75 years later.’ Diteogo Ndaba, Gr. 9 VERITAS, 1999
Having the first matric boys meant having the first boy prefects and the first Head Boy, needless to say the titles of the office bearers had to change to Head- and Deputy Head Prefect.
Three of these boys – Given Mnguni, Curtis Mnisi (Head Prefect) and Aubrey Dhlamini were also the first boys to reach matric from Gr. 1.
The Expansion Project
In 1999, due to a strong demand for places, the Board of Governors agreed in principal to increase the number of classes in each grade. This project would entail the construction of classrooms and the re-organisation of existing facilities. This was to take place on an incremental basis so as to minimise any disruption which expansion could cause. The project would add a class to each grade, thus maintaining the size of each class but increasing the overall size of the school. As the increased numbers moved though the school additional classrooms would be added.
2000 – 2001
The building programme (part of the Expansion Programme) started in 2000 with the addition of a completely new pre-primary block and the conversion of the existing pre-primary into a focused junior primary section. The new ‘school within our school’ was named St Gabriel’s and was ready for the January 2001 intake of pre-primary school children. The centre was officially opened by Sr. Lucia Allenstein, the Principal.
2005 – 2006
The Expansion Project continues
The Expansion Project continued at this time and included the construction of a new school building. The new building was dedicated to St Catherine and provided much needed space for three Gr. 3 and two Gr. 7 Classes.
The start of a new era
In 2008 Sr. Lucia announced that she would be retiring as principal, at the end of the year, after 11 years of dedicated service. With the absence of a Dominican Sister to replace her, the Board of Governors looked to hire a principal from elsewhere for the first time in the school’s history. In so doing, Mr Bernard Langton was appointed. He acted as principal until the end of 2016.
St Thomas welcomes new principal
After Mr Langton’s resignation Ms Annette Antunes stepped in. Ms Antunes’s support for and commitment towards St Thomas Aquinas School had been evident years before; she had been a member of St Thomas’s BOG since 2011. Prior to working at St Thomas she had served as Head of Languages at The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy from 2012 to 2016.