by Sister Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN
“Our common aim… to express in our time as Julie did in hers, that God is good.” (Constitutions 9)
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) make known God’s goodness as we respond to specific needs “in our time.”
This year, 2016, marks a milestone in the life and Mission of the Sisters in the ZimSA Unit (Zimbabwe and South Africa). St. Peter Claver Primary School in Maokeng, Kroonstad, South Africa is celebrating one hundred years of quality education begun and continuing by our religious congregation.
Currently the Primary (Elementary) School has 504 pupils, from Grade R (K), and Grades 1 – 7, and 27 teachers. A long-awaited dream, the High School (Post Primary, or Secondary), opened in 2010 on the site of the former convent in the Kroonstad suburb called Jordania, has 284 pupils with 17 teachers in ten classes in Grades 8-12. Both schools have a small team of administrators and support staff. In the Primary School. Sr. Gertrude Izuchukwu teaches Religious Education and does pastoral care and Sr. Chantal Kissimbila is responsible for finances. In the Secondary (High) School, Sr. Marie McLaughlin is the chaplain and Sr. Kay Bridge tutors students. Sr. Brigid Rose Tiernan represents the SNDdeN owners on the Board of Governors.
A Remarkable History
In the early 20th Century, a racially divided South Africa catered to ‘white’ students in every educational establishment. Arriving in Kroonstad in 1907, the first Sisters started by teaching the children of railway workers in the camp on the edge of the town. They saw also another great educational and evangelization need on the side of the town where the Sesotho people lived. Unable to speak the Sesotho language, the Sisters were not prepared to open a school for these children. Undaunted, the Sisters found lay educators to teach them the vernacular Sesotho language. The Sisters began by teaching a few black Catholic children religious instruction on Saturdays and Sundays. Finally in 1916, with the blessings of the Congregational Leadership in Namur, Belgium, St. Peter Claver Primary School opened in Kroonstad, under the direction of Sr. Andrina Ledwick, assisted by Sr. Mary Theresa Dawkins.
On the first day, the Sisters, ringing a bell, walked up and down dusty streets and invited children to come to their small school in Marabastad. This first school with four brick classrooms expanded in time, as did the number of children. During the earliest years,
(1916-1971), Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur maintained the leadership of the school and worked closely with dedicated lay teachers. Inspectors of Education gave positive reports about the school.
In those 55 years, the principals, Sisters Brendan Dalton, Alphonse Byrne, Monica (Mary) McLeish and Veronica Chapman faced varying developments and multiple struggles with Education Department officials, and teachers who came and went while other committed educators remained as partners with the Sisters. Every year the children participated in singing competitions, sports events and went on excursions to places of educational interest, even the airport and zoo in Johannesburg. They succeeded in examinations admitting them to secondary schools in the district and beyond.
Leadership and Growth
An ambivalent relationship existed between the school leadership and the Education Department. While local officials praised academic and other successes, they remained suspicious of the Sisters’ connection with the Catholic Church. For decades, the municipality refused the Sisters’ request for land on which to build the classrooms to accommodate more than a thousand pupils. Finally in 1971, the municipality approved a new school which was then built with funds donated by the SNDdeN British Province. The given municipal land on clay soil has presented many ongoing challenges to builders who try to construct permanent structures.
For about nine decades, parents asked the Sisters to expand the school to Grade 12. This dream became a reality in 2010. Mrs. Zunelle De Ru was appointed Head of the whole School in November 2010. In 2011, Grade 10 class enrolled on the Primary School site. Plans to raise funds for another class and more rooms for a fully operative and functional school brought St. Peter Claver High School to the site of the old convent in the Kroonstad suburb. Assisted in 2016 by an enlarged management team, Mrs.
De Ru is the Head of both Primary and
Planning and Development
Fund-raising efforts continue for completing the new school hall, with a kitchen and administration rooms, in the Primary School. Misean Cara in Ireland has provided partial funding for this building still needing more funds. The High School is now seeking funding for a librarian and for renovating the old convent to add three more classrooms. The plan is to move Grade 7 from the Primary School to the High School in reorganizing the curriculum in to a new structure.
At present, the curriculum falls naturally into these divisions:
♦ Grades 1-3 Foundation Phase
♦ Grades 4-6 Intermediate Phase
♦ Grades 7-9 Senior Phase
♦ Grades 10-12 with Further Education and Training Phase.
The Plan is to restructure the buildings also with 6 grades at the High School, and keep 6 grades at the Primary School. Faculty development is ongoing.
Through the years, the Sisters have often assisted teachers, staff members, alumnae/alumni with academic and professional development, and accompanied them through their continuing studies. A group of former students is assisting the Sisters and organizing events to celebrate the 100th Anniversary; St. Peter Claver School moves into a bright future for all levels “in our time.”
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, legal owners of the site and building, share the direction and leadership of the school with a Board of Govenors. (See www.oldconvent.co.za)
Reprinted with permission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “In Our Time” by Sister Brigid Rose Tiernan SNDdeN, Good Works, March 2016, pp. 8-11.
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