At St Joseph’s Marist College, we are proud of our rich and colourful history because the journey we have taken to the present has defined us and given us character.
Our history is interesting and worth hearing about…
When Jan van Riebeek arrived at the Cape in 1652 it was his objective simply to set up a refreshment station for supplying the fleet of the Dutch East India Company with fresh provisions. As the wheat supply at the Cape proved to be inadequate to satisfy the need of passing Company ships, it was proposed that some of the Company’s employees be released to establish farms for the growing of wheat.
A search was conducted for suitable ground that would be sheltered from the fierce south-easterly winds, but would not be too far from the Fort. The choice was the land along the Liesbeek River selected by Van Riebeek who gave the area its name, derived from his description of a cluster of thorn bushes which grew there in circular formation: “Het ronde doorenbosjen!” he called them; and in that place today stands picturesque Rondebosch. Unconfirmed anecdotes suggest that the thorn bushes he was looking at when he proclaimed these immortal words were, in fact, in front of what is today the main school building.
Where was Belmont Estate you may ask? On the 20th of November 1658, the Eckleburg Estate was granted to Free Burgher Jacob Cloete. The Belmont (St Joseph’s) Estate was an original sub-division of this estate. In 1835 John Bardwell Ebden acquired the Belmont Estate and built a large mansion with a great glass-domed reception hall. On landscaping the grounds down to the Liesbeek River, he changed the name of the estate to Belmont Park. The mansion that he built is the main administrative building of the College today.
The story of St Joseph’s Marist College and the Marist Brothers in South Africa began on the 16th of April 1867, for this is when the Marist Brothers arrived in Cape Town, having taken 62 days to travel by ship from Marseilles to Simon’s Town. Met by Bishop Thomas Grimley, the Brothers travelled from Simon’s Town to Cape Town by ox-wagon (a journey which took 2 weeks!) and settled in Hope Street. South Africa represented the fourth country in the world and the first country outside Europe to which the Marist Brothers extended their teaching skills and mission.
Though the first lessons were held at Bishop Griffiths’ school in Hope Street, the Brothers almost immediately moved to the junction of St John’s, Vrede and Hatfield Streets in the Gardens. Brother Faust was the Founding Principal of St Aloysius Primary, which had an original pupil roll of 9 boys. In addition, Brother Willibrord conducted a night school for all races.
On 6 May 1867, the Brothers established a second school on the same campus, Saint Joseph’s Academy, a fee-paying institution whose classes went higher than those of St Aloysius. St Joseph’s moved from Phoenix House (where it had been opened) to occupy Grimley Hall on the first floor above the St Aloysius school. In later years, St Joseph’s Academy became known as the Marist Brothers’ High School and St Aloysius as the Marist Brothers’ Junior School, catering between them for Std 2 to 8. The Brothers were thus able to control 2 schools on the same property. It was only in 1902 that Grimley Hall was extended with the addition of 6 classrooms when the Brothers acquired the adjoining homestead from a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. The journey of the Marist Brothers to South Africa and Cape Town was a pioneering journey in which each Brother boldly faced the unknown without trepidation.
Looking for more spacious grounds, and a school to run the senior Standards 6 to 8 parallel to St Joseph’s Academy, the Belmont property was bought by the Brothers from J.B. Ebden. This sale was made possible with the assistance of Mossop and Co. who occupied the adjacent tannery (now Tannery Park).
Ebden, a staunch Anglican, was not willing to sell the land to the Catholic Brothers, so the Brothers employed the services of estate agents, O’Reilly and O’Malley, who sold the land to Mossop and Son, who then, by pre-arrangement re-sold the land to the Brothers.
In February 1918, Belmont opened its gates to just over 100 pupils as St Joseph’s College of the Marist Brothers with the first registered pupil being Harold J. Doran. The first principal was Brother Paul-Eusterius, who also founded St Henry’s Marist Brothers College in Durban. The large rooms of Belmont House were used as classrooms and construction of the new classroom block and boarding dormitory commenced immediately.
It was decided in 1933 to discontinue the senior standards at Hatfield Street and St Joseph’s Academy was incorporated into St Joseph’s College, thus making the Hatfield Street property solely a primary school. There seemed no point in continuing to run senior school classes parallel with those at St Joseph’s College, and the College reaped the rewards of the amalgamation with a significant growth in numbers.
The increased numbers meant that additional classrooms and other facilities were required. As a result, the College Chapel was built and unveiled in 1936.
At the same time the wing for the High School was started. The chapel and new wing were built in Romanesque style. The old Chapel (now the Ballet Room) became the Std 4 classroom. The early years of St Joseph’s Marist College demonstrated a willingness to move forward and embrace all opportunities.
The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were incredibly successful years for the College, and bore testimony to the culture of striving for one’s best that St Joseph’s Marist College has always championed. In addition to significant increases in pupil numbers and a thriving boarding establishment, the College enjoyed incredible success on the sports field, including the selection of numerous provincial representatives, and consistent victories in rugby against the likes of Rondebosch, Wynberg and Boland Landbou. Some of our Past Pupils will even remember a memorable victory against Bishops.
Also, in keeping with the times, building developments saw the construction of a new Science Laboratory and 3 new classrooms in 1964, and later, the Lecture Theatre and Physics Laboratory (later Biology Laboratory) which officially opened in 1971. This particular extension to the school building cost R40 000.
The 1970s was a decade of change in many respects, and the College showed its ability to adapt and adjust to change, whilst always remaining true to its values and ethos. In response to the dwindling numbers of Brothers, and the increasing role of lay people in the work of the Marist Brothers, the Board’s Constitution was developed and officially constituted in 1977. The second significant change came in 1978 when St Joseph’s Marist College became an ‘Open’ School. Subsequent to the tragic pupil unrest of 1976, Catholic Church authorities asked pardon for compliance with discriminatory practices and laws, and declared that their institutions would be open to everyone regardless of existing legislation.
The tumultuous 1970s were followed by a decade of challenge for the College. Yet it was in these challenging times that the true resilience and fortitude of the College came to the fore, not to mention its strong sense of community and family spirit. Owing to a dire financial position brought about by a drop in vocations to the religious life and dwindling pupil numbers (as low as 270 at one stage) it was announced in September 1981 that St Joseph’s would probably have to close its doors by the end of 1982. This did not sit well with many of those who were a part of the St Joseph’s family, both past and present, and in 1982 the Venture of Faith campaign was launched to prevent the closing of St Joseph’s.
The Venture of Faith campaign demonstrated the passion for the College that so many people held, and saw a unified effort from all members of the St Joseph’s community to ensure the College’s survival. Thankfully, the campaign achieved its objective, and the College remained open, even though its financial state remained tenuous.
The 1980s saw some other significant changes. In 1983, Ron Taylor became the first lay headmaster of the College, and sought to get the College back on firm financial ground. It was also under his charge that the transfer of Marist Junior School, St Aloysius, from its City Bowl campus to St Joseph’s Marist College was facilitated. Thus, the Junior School section became a state-aided church school (known as a public school on private property). It was also in Ron Taylor’s era that Montessori was introduced, as well as the first Computer Literacy programme. This time of innovation was followed by an equally innovative time in the 1990s and 2000s. In 1996 the St Joseph’s Adult Education Programme was introduced. The following year saw a Montessori Teacher Training Centre being built, together with new Pre-Primary classrooms and, two years after that, our Special Needs Unit was established in response to a project conceived by Christ the King parish in Pinelands.
The history of St Joseph’s Marist College is a proud one. By drawing on the lessons and experiences of those who have gone before us, we are truly defined by our history and our experiences and thus we surge forward with tenacity and dedication.