St Gerard’s celebrates 50 years of growing together

26 Feb 2015

By Jamie O'Brien

1965 was a special year for the local community of Westminster (then Balga) with the opening of two classes at the newly established St Gerard’s Catholic Primary School, for children entering Years One or Two.

At the time of its opening, the school doubled as a Mass Centre on weekends – and was situated in an area that was fairly desolate, as well as being home to large goannas, snakes and other wildlife that would roam the school grounds during the day, rummaging through student bags looking for food.

However, it was a very different setting last weekend when more than 250 former students, teachers, parents and members of the school community gathered together to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.

In 2015, the school now boasts an ever-increasing number of more than 200 students from Kindergarten to Year 6, in addition to the well-resourced facilities with teachers who continue to provide a sound education in the Mercy tradition.

Former parish priest and Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, main celebrant at the special 11am Mass, was joined by current parish priest, Fr Giouse Marini; former student and parishioner, Fr Vincent Glynn; and former parish priest, Fr Francisco Mascarenhas.

The celebrations continued after Mass with a festival which included the cutting of a cake by former principal Brian Preston, together with Acting-Principal Josephine Vivante and Bishop Don.

Mrs Vivante said the occasion was also a special time to remember the work of the Mercy Sisters and Servite Fathers whose ideals have laid the foundation for the current school motto – Truth, Love and Mercy.

Present for the occasion was the first lay principal, Brian Preston, who served in the role from 1979 to 1997.

More than 250 former students, teachers, parents and members of the school community gathered together to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary. Photo: Jamie O’Brien

Mr Preston said that, for him, one of his most memorable moments included the commencement of International Children’s Day, which saw the school display more than 50 flags and share different foods representing students’ countries of origin as part of a special celebration.

The work of Mr Preston resulted in the completion of a number of new buildings, particularly the opening of a new Pre-Primary Centre in 1990, which has now been named after him, the BJ Preston Pre-Primary Centre.

Mr Preston also paid tribute to the school’s former financial and administration officer, Lori Page, who worked in the role for more than 30 years. The Administration buildings, which were completed in 1984, were named after Mrs Page many years later.

Mr Preston also made mention of and gave thanks to former Board treasurer Orion Fernandez, whose foresight and financial planning saw the opening of a purpose-built computer room in 1988, the first of its kind in a Catholic school in Western Australia.

“For the future, I hope that the children learn to think for themselves and to carry on the traditions that the school has already started,” Mr Preston concluded.

Teacher Frank Nieman, who has taught at the school for more than 25 years, said that, for him, there have been too many memories to mention in one day.

Staff at St Gerard’s Primary School of 1987. Photo: Supplied.

“We’ve had a number of different buildings, the children have come in different stages, the teachers have been many,” Mr Nieman said.

“We’ve had a lot of positive sporting moments, and more than 30 years of camps – which students always seem to remember more than anything.”

Mr Nieman went on to describe a special moment for him that took place on St Gerard’s Day in 1981, when his wife, together with their new-born son Daniel, were presented as special guests at the Mass and festivities. It is a day, he said, that will forever remain a special memory for him.

Former student, now priest, Fr Vincent Glynn, was also present for the occasion, having been one of the first students at the school when it opened in 1965.

Fr Glynn, one of 18 students who commenced at the school in Year Two, talked about the influence of Mercy Sisters Sr Brigid and (now) Sr Mary O’Connor, who were the first teachers at the school.

“It was such a new, growing community – both the school and the parish – the families had to get in and do things – so they had to build the school from scratch,” Fr Glynn said.

“We used to clear our desks on Friday so that the classroom could be used for Mass on the weekend – it was a real school, and a parish community that was very strong,” he said.

“One of my biggest memories is also of then parish priest Fr Peter Quinn, who later became Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese, and the Mercy Sisters Sr Brigid and Sr Mary O’Connor.

“They had a big influence on us, our families and the parish community – so I have very fond memories of them.”