1920s - Additions and photos

There were extensive additions to Redcliff in the 1920s, with an opening ceremony in 1929. These provided boarding facilities as well as the school for secondary day girls and boarders. Here is a detailed description of the additions.

"The Primary section of the school remained on the San Clemente site until 1922 when it was moved to St Columban's present school site in Church Street. A small Church School and some sheds were erected to provide for the Primary School students and also to enable the parishioners to have a place to attend Mass on Sundays. The new Church School was named St. Joseph's."
(St Columban’s, celebrating eighty years of history, 1917-1997 p. 7)

The primary school was renamed St Columbanus in 1924, and anglicised to St Columban's in 1959. It was co-educational, the girls progressing to San Clemente, and the boys to St Mary's Star of the Sea (now St Francis Xavier) which was also a boarding school. 

Kindergarten for both boys and girls remained in the basement at San Clemente until the 1930s.
(Reg Coghlan, pers. comm. 2017)(Newcastle Morning Herald, 2 May 1929)

There was a covered walkway between the Convent and St Joseph's (St Columban's) so that the Sisters and boarders could walk between them in comfort. They both had lunch at the Convent, day students brought lunch from home. The walkway can still be seen in the aerial photograph from 1971

"It was a time when Sr M. Anne was in the convent kitchen and we would often see her giving food to passing 'swagmen' who moved from town to town in search of work. It was a special treat to go on a message to the Convent - Sr Anne always seemed to be able to find a piece of cake or a biscuit for the messenger"
(Mary (Lewis) Short in St Columban’s, celebrating eighty years of history, 1917-1997 p. 11)

"In those days (1925), some of the 5th and 6th class pupils were entered for the Irish History Exams. I can remember Sr. Bernadette, herself Irish, teaching us the Irish History Programme. Once or twice a week, Mother Borgia would instruct those doing the course. We 'marched' up to the 'Cottage', located in the corner of the Secondary School Sport's area, next door to the big white B.H.P. House, and facing Church Street. Commercial Class, 1st year and music lessons were conducted in the Cottage. 

"I commenced 1st Year in the 'Cottage', then moved to the new 1st Year Classroom, when the new 'San Clemente' Secondary School was officially opened (This was in 1927.)

"We 'skipped' 2nd Year and became 3rd Year students! Think it was because the new Secondary School had to be registered with the State Education Department. (1929) M.M. Madeliene was Prioress and taught us English and Math's. The latter was my forte! We repeated 3rd Year ... Mother called us 'Disobedient Intermediates' ... San Clemente was only registered as a Third Year High School. (I) Think three or four of the girls went to St. Mary's, Maitland as Boarders ... (for Years 4 and 5, some, including) myself, travelled to Maitland by train.
(Cecily McHugh in St Columban’s, celebrating eighty years of history, 1917-1997 p. 13)


1920 about students at front


Boarders at the front of Redcliff, early 1920s (before the additions)

1920 Circa San Clemente Dominican Convent


"San Clemente," Dominican Convent, Mayfield

(The Dominican)

 1928 C Aerial Corner Circle


An aerial photograph of Mayfield, showing San Clemente in the red circle. This was taken before the extensions (opened in 1929), so although the photo is credited as being taken in 1928, it was more likely earlier in the 1920s.

Mayfield, photograph by Milton Kent Airplane Photographs, Sydney. Southern No. 59.-.-.11.1930.jpg, accessed on 4 December 2017, <https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2014/08/25/newcastle-aerial-photos/>

1928 C Aerial Corner Building


A closer look at San Clemente from the above photograph. This was Redcliff before the additions of the 1920s.

 1928 C Aerial Photo Of Mayfield 2 58 8 1930 With Circle


Another photograph in the same series

Mayfield, photograph by Milton Kent Airplane Photographs, Sydney. Southern No. 58.-.-.8.1930.jpg, accessed on 4 December 2017, <https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2014/08/25/newcastle-aerial-photos/>



"The old days in Mayfield"

M.M. Concepta O'Donohoe and 
her brother Father Joseph P O'Donohoe



1st Year 1922

Students photographed by the grotto,  which is still a feature at the school.

The Grotto along with other amenities was provided by MM Concepta's brother, Father O'Donohoe

(San Clemente Dominican Convent Mayfield School Report, 1958)

1923 Grand Concert Ticket


A ticket to the 'Grand Concert given by pupils of Dominican Convent'


1926 San Clemente

Dominican Convent at Mayfield
"San Clemente", Havelock Street, Mayfield, beautifully situated on the crest of a hill. Healthy situation, ~ recreation grounds. Ideal house for children. Pupils prepared for all examinations. Commercial subjects receive special attention. For futher particulars, apply to the superior. Tel., 222 Waratah

Dominican Convent at Mayfield, Newcastle Sun, Thursday 7 January 1926, page 8.


 1920S Students Small


Students in the 1920s

- there are 109 students in this photograph

 1920S Grotto Small


1920s service by the grotto

1928 Small


Boarders by the Grotto, wearing navy blouses with Peter Pan collars under their navy tunics.


Redcliff And San Clemente Small 

This is the current facade of the school, showing Redcliff on the left, and the additions of the 1920s on the right, when it became a Dominican school.
Stitched photo by Carmen Janos, 5/07

 1922 Small


The first San Clemente building, taken in 1930 - the chimneys of Redcliff are still visible on the left.  This is the school when it was first opened as a school for girls.

 San Clemente Small  

San Clemente, Mayfield

Source : Sr M. Assumpta O'Hanlon.  Dominican pioneers in NSW.  Courtesy of the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle Archives

 1923 Before 1938 No St Dominic


San Clemente

before 1938

 03 1982 1 Back Of School Showing Music And Amenities Wing


The back wing of the school, comprising music rooms and laundry on the ground floor, and amenities for the boarders on the second floor.

The attic which was the dressing room for boarders also had wash basins where they washed their faces in the morning - in cold water!

 04 1982 2 Showing Music And Amenities Wing


These photographs were taken in 1982 - the wing was demolished during the 1980s construction

 1929 5 2 Dominican Nuns New Link


Dominican nuns - new Mayfield school - "San Clemente" Convent

An article on the blessing and official opening of the school in 1929.

It has a detailed description of the building, including the basement "two rooms... which are to be used as a kindergarten" and the attic "a dressing-room... fitted with marble-topped dressing tables, and presses for the children's use."

"The building...has been fitted with electric heaters throughout"

(Newcastle Morning Herald, 2 May 1929)

1929 Mayfield Convent Opening Link


Dominican Nuns - Mayfield Convent - Opening Ceremony

"Beautifully situated in seven acres of land, rich in natural decoration, overlooking the Hunter River, and with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in the distance, the additions... were opened yesterday afternoon"

"The Children of Mary... sang Congress hymns"

(Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 May 1929)


 Scan0001 Small


A photograph of  Mrs Gwen Gilbert, an ex-student, when at 4 years old she said farewell to her father before he left for the Great War, from which he returned.  She still lives in Mayfield, and in 2009 was interviewed by 2 students for the school newspaper.  The interview appears below.


Ex-students tell stories of the past
In 2016 San Clemente students had the pleasure of interviewing three ex-pupils, two of whom attended San Clemente during World War Two and compare how different the school is now to how it originally was. 

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Mrs Gwen Gilbert, one of the ex-students interviewed and San Clemente’s oldest known ex-pupil jokes that "97 has a few creaks here and there". Mrs Gilbert attended the school as a boarder from Narrabri in 1922 and completed her leaving certificate in 1926, which was a rare achievement for girls in this era.  Subjects studied included English, Latin, French, Botany, Mathematics, Geography and History.

Mrs Gilbert remarked that attending a school under the control of the Catholic sisters was very strict and the day students were not permitted to associate with boarders as outside information may have had a negative impact on them.  Co-educational schools at this time were non-existent and San Clemente students were forewarned that if they were to speak to boys the penalty would be immediate expulsion.

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Although the former students made regular comments about the strictness of the nuns, they had great respect for the Sisters. When they were out in public they were on their best behaviour as it was their duty and honour to represent San Clemente and its highly respected first principal, Mother Concepta.

Margaret Anne Davies and Sister Ann Walsh spoke about their experiences of school life during World War Two. The boarders were sent to an institution in Maitland, as Mayfield was considered too dangerous for the students to be permitted to board there. The students continued to attend school at Mayfield, and were obliged to carry a ‘dilly-bag’ in case of an air-raid. Dilly-bags contained emergency and first-aid items. San Clemente had built an air-raid shelter below what is now a tennis court. If an air-raid were to occur the students would take their dilly bags and race down to the shelter.

Erin Richardson and Louise Slowey