St Rita’s College Clayfield: Where and How It All Began

St Rita’s College, an independent Catholic secondary school for girls, was established by the Presentation Sisters in 1926. Do you know where the school got its name from, and where and how it began?

Oliver Jonker

The story goes that St. Rita’s College was named after Sister Rita, a member of their order. Others say the school was named after the saint of hopeless causes, St Rita of Cascia. Apparently, the Presentation Sisters were in a bit of a predicament as they had quite a debt to clear just to establish the school in Clayfield.  

The Early Days

St Rita’s College was established in a prominent Clayfield residence known as Stanley Hall. Stanley Hall was originally built for Herbert Hunter in 1888 but it became the property of Edward Blume and his family from 1911 to 1926. 

Mother Alice Ursula Kennedy and Mother Mary Patrick Madden negotiated with Mr Blume, whose family was planning to move out of Stanley Hall, for the five-acre property. The sisters secured a bank loan worth £22,000 with Mr Fred Martin, the brother of Sister Rita Martin, as the guarantor. 

Stanley Hall Clayfield
Photo Credit: Lost Brisbane/Facebook

An Answered Prayer

Stanley Hall was an answered prayer for the Presentation Sisters who were still living at the presbytery of St. Agatha’s parish school a few meters away. Despite their debt, the sisters managed to make interior changes at Stanley Hall to prepare the site for primary school students.

The first classroom welcomed students in a humble heritage room with only 14 kids between six to 15 years old. The school still lacked amenities on account of the cash-strapped sisters. 

In 1927, the Department of Public Instruction granted St Rita’s College approval as a Queensland secondary school. But the Great Depression followed thus no additional facilities were built due to lack of funding. According to the Convent Annals, the Presentation Sisters were considering selling Stanley Hall and downsizing.



However, in spite of the bad state of the economy at that time, the school community thrived and secured years of new enrollees with the opening of the kindergarten department.

St Rita's College
Photo Credit: Trove

From Post-War Struggles to High Academic Standards

In 1938, the Kennedy Centre was built, which was named after Mother Alice, who was also the first principal of St Rita’s. The school also offered boarders and day boarding for its secondary students.

During World War II in 1941, the sisters and the boarders had to be evacuated to a convent in Murgon miles away from Clayfield. Upon the reopening of St Rita’s in 1943, subjects like Science, Music, Art, and Drama were introduced and have remained a major part of the school’s curriculum. 

St Rita's College post-war
Photo Credit: Trove

By the 1950s, St Rita’s was flourishing as a school offering high academic standards and a noteworthy music and drama department where the creative students were encouraged to pursue their dreams. In the 1960s, the school added the Sacred Heart Centre with more classrooms as well as the art physics centre.

Progressing With School Improvements

In the 1970s, the school scrapped the boarding facilities and built the Nano Nagle Centre with four science laboratories. It was named after the Irish pioneering founder of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 1700s. 

The centre underwent a massive renovation in 2011 with the addition of more science laboratories, Information Technology network and support centre, function rooms, modern teaching rooms, a state-of-the-art resource centre, and a panoramic view of the northern bay suburbs.



The laboratory sections of the Nano Nagle Centre were renamed the Sister Elvera Sesta Science Centre, a former principal who was a science degree holder from the University of Queensland

St Rita's College Nano Nagle Centre
Photo Credit: StRitaCollege/Facebook

Subsequent rebuilds of St Rita’s College also took place for the next five decades to include the following:

  • Trinity Centre, where the school auditorium is found, alongside the Film and TV green room, drama rooms, and music rooms
  • Presentation Center, where hospitality, business, and design classrooms are housed 
  • Acqua Rose Centre, an aesthetically impressive building with a heated pool and glass windows
  • Eirene Centre, with its multi-purpose hall, art classrooms, and the gym
St Rita's College Trinity Centre
Photo Credit: M3 Architecture

St Rita’s College at Present

Today, the original Stanley Hall building serves as the school administration area. St Rita’s College maintains its reputation as highly-regarded as a Catholic independent girls school for Years 5 to 12 girls with more than 1,000 enrolments a year.

St Rita has proudly produced thousands of well-educated women who were encouraged to achieve their full potential. Some of the school’s most distinguished alums are  Julieanne Alroe, the CEO of Brisbane Airport, Chair of Infrastructure Australia, Eloise Amberger, an Olympian for Synchronised Swimming, Abbie Chatfield, a social media celebrity, Sophie Conway, Australian Rules Footballer with Brisbane Lions, Kate McCarthy, a sportsperson with Queensland Cricket and Brisbane Lions, and Georgia Prestwidge of the Brisbane Heat Cricket Team.

Photo Credit: StRita’sCollegeAlumnae/Facebook

In 2021, nine students from St Rita’s College scored an ATAR of 99+, which means they are among the top 1% of the state. 

Innovative Learning Precinct at St Rita’s College in Clayfield Unveiled

A new era of learning begins for St Rita’s College with the unveiling of its new state-of-the-art learning precinct, the largest build to occur at the school.

The $40-million Trinity Centre is a five-level specialist facility that will be home to the school’s music studios, rehearsal spaces, drama studios, film and television studios, a multipurpose theatre/hall, social space, and twelve general learning areas with associated breakout spaces.

“The Trinity Centre will be an important landmark in today’s modern and global educational landscape, bringing together and further enhancing many existing programs under one roof,” Principal Mrs Dale Morrow said.

“The classroom furniture, adaptable technology and all spaces in the precinct aim to provide a flexible, contemporary learning environment affording peer-to-peer collaboration and seamless technology.”

“The design also highlights the College’s proud heritage, employing the words NANO and RITA architecturally.”



Photo credit: St Rita’s College / stritas.qld.edu.au

The new precinct will enhance the students’ academic, arts and communal experience and provide a space for performances, examinations, speaker programs, and College-wide functions and events. 

Some of the key elements of the Trinity Centre include an auditorium/multi-purpose space that can seat 400 people; 12 general learning spaces, each with 2 breakout areas and greater average classroom size; flexible learning furniture advocated by the latest educational theories; and a large general assessment area ability on all levels.

Trinity Centre also houses the musical instruction classrooms, drama/rehearsal classrooms, foyer/reception area, gallery area, box office, modern new pantry, and outdoor learning areas. St Rita’s College is also the first school in Australia to use the new technology software Utelogy. 

College Business Manager, Mr Ed Gleeson with Principal, Mrs Dale Morrow, in the new Trinity Centre Auditorium
Photo credit: St Rita’s College / stritas.qld.edu.au

The fit out of the Centre received a funding boost via a “Giving Day” campaign launched in late 2019. Through the help of Lead Donors, some 400 members of the College community, and the Alumnae and Parents and Friends Association, the campaign raised over $400,000 for furniture, pianos, chairs, desks, whiteboards, bag racks and more.

The Official Opening and Blessing of the Trinity Centre is set to be held in March 2020.



The Rich Heritage Of Stanley Hall In Clayfield

St Rita’s College in Clayfield is home to one of the city’s outstanding and heritage-listed buildings, Stanley Hall.

The building was constructed around 1885 as the home of John William Forth, one of Brisbane’s most successful produce dealer back in those days. However, Mr Forth wasn’t able to fully enjoy his home as he died on the day of his house-warming party.

The home was originally built as a single-storey house, but later on, renovation took place giving it an additional storey by the next owner, Herbert Hunter. Adding a second storey to the home benefitted Mr Hunter as he is a fan of horse racing and the second level of the home allowed him to view the races at the Eagle Farm racecourse.

The next owner was Edward Blume, a socialite who had the opportunity to entertain the Prince of Wales at his home during the early 1920s. The house was sold in 1926 to the Presentation Sisters. In 1930, the home was featured in The Queenslander as part of its “Brisbane’s Historic Home” series.

The Presentation Sisters converted the home into a boarding school and secondary school for girls in 1926. The most recent renovation took place in 2009 when it was converted into an administration centre with a heritage room devoted to the history of the Sisters and the College.

It became a part of the Queensland’s Heritage Register for surviving as a substantially intact grand resident of the late 1880s. It also was home to two Queensland pastoralists for over 35 years.

St. Rita’s College in Clayfield Proposed Plans for New Arts Building

Professional planning firm John Gaskell Planning Consultants (JGPC) lodged a development application to the Brisbane City Council (BCC), in behalf of St. Rita’s College, for a new Arts Building. The proposal is still awaiting the Council’s approval to move forward.

The new Arts Building is seen to provide the students a “state-of-the-art” facility to develop their raw talents in music, drama, film, and television. The facility will help the College community to deliver their art programs that are included in their curriculum and to have an efficient place to hold their co-curricular programs.

 

Proposed Plans for the New Arts Building

Photo credit: D.A. No. A004754429, Brisbane City Council

 

M3Architecture, a Brisbane-based architecture firm, designed the proposal for the new building. The plan seeks a construction of a five storey building, positioned on the south western area of the school grounds. However, it will only appear as a three storey building on the northern side due to the sloping.

The design indicated that there will be 13 general learning areas to accommodate the students and teachers. To further support the students’ talents in performing arts, the new building will feature music, rehearsal, drama, film, and television studios and a multipurpose theatre for performances.

The plan also includes a “Long Room” that will directly link the Arts Building to the courtyard spaces of the Kennedy Centre and Sacred Heart. This will help the students to access the buildings easily, whilst providing social spaces.

Photo credit: D.A. No. A004754429, Brisbane City Council

Development Details

The development application for the school’s new Arts Building includes:

  • New building with maximum height of 22.5 metres;
  • New Stafford Street access;
  • Landscape works to the Kennedy Centre;
  • Two-metre wide landscape buffer along the southern boundary;
  • Lane widening along the southern site boundary and Hunter Lane driveway crossover;
  • Modifications of facade; and
  • 28 new car park spaces, adjacent to the proposed building.

 

Several Buildings to be Affected

Photo credit: D.A. No. A004754429, Brisbane City Council

Based on the proposal, several buildings will be affected. This includes demolition of the existing Trinity Hall and the old pantry. Sacred Heart Building’s Level 1 classrooms will also be demolished, once approved.

Although Kennedy Building’s south wing together with the stairs, walkways, and garden, will be removed, the building will be redeveloped. Refurbishments of its existing ground and second floors will also commence to accommodate a new pantry.

The development will also require some demolition works of covered walkways, driveways, and courtyards to give way to the new facility.

Photo credit: D.A. No. A004754429, Brisbane City Council

Further details about the development application can be viewed on the BCC PD Online.

What’s On @ Clayfield This Weekend

Keep your hands full with these events in Clayfield this weekend.

Friday, 11 August

Splendour on the Flat

Tickets: $5

Time: 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Venue: St. Rita’s College

Photo credit: St Rita’s College/Facebook

St. Rita’s College will host an evening of music and fun to raise funds for their school immersion. The students will be singing, dancing, and showcasing their different talents on this relaxed event.

BYO picnic basket and blanket.

 

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Saturday, 12 August

Freshies Fabulous Vegan Sale

Tickets: FREE ENTRY

Time: 10:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Venue: PETStock Clayfield

Photo credit: Fresh Start Rescue Incorporated/Facebook

The next vegan sale of Fresh Start Rescue Incorporated will be held on Saturday this week. It will be the best time to taste some of the freshest vegan snacks and cuddle their furry babies that are looking for their “fur”-ever family.

This is a fundraising event for “freshies,” rescued pets that need care.

 

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Sunday, 13 August

Kalinga Dash

Tickets: $10 – $50 (see website for detailed pricing)

Time: 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Venue: Kalinga Park

Photo credit: Kalinga Dash/Facebook

The Kalinga Dash is back this year. It is a family-friendly fun run with three events — 7.5 kilometres, 4.2 kilometres, and 2.0 kilometres Kid’s Dash.

There will be food and drinks stalls, sweets and cakes, rides, and entertainment.

Early registration already ended last 30th of July. Online registration will close on 10th of August. Late entries are accepted on the event proper.

 

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Sunday, 13 August

Ground to Grow

Tickets:

  • $120 – individual workshop
  • $740 – full program
  • $185 – four installment payments

Time: 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Venue: Clayfield Yoga Studio

Photo credit: Clear Skies Yoga/Facebook

Ground to Grow is an extension program for yoga students who wish for more. Alison Sykes and Tanya Zappala will teach breakdowns of common and popular yoga postures, hand balances, and inversions.

There will be seven sessions to be held every Sunday of the month from August to March.

 

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