1938 Sr Janet Ryan

Sister Janet Ryan

(Pupil at San Clemente from 1938 to 1940, Sister at San Clemente Convent for a year in 1949 and then from 1954 - 1959, teaching at St Columbanus.)


Sr Janet lived in Waratah with her family in the last house in Edith St, which was a dirt road with bush behind it. She started school at Corpus Christi in Waratah – at the time she started the school was in a cottage opposite the convent. She moved into the newly built school in 3rd Class. She played with the students at the Deaf and Dumb Institute at Waratah, and associated closely with the Dominican nuns there.

She started 1st Year at San Clemente as a Day pupil in 1938, and finished there in 3rd Year, attaining her Intermediate Certificate, as San Clemente finished at that level. (Equivalent to Years 7 to 9)

She has very fond memories of her days at school, both in Primary and at San Clemente. The school day for Day students started with the bell on the back Cloister being rung by the Head Prefect at 9 am. Some day girls travelled for a long time to school – for example some came from Stockton by ferry, bus and then walked up the hill to the school, so the day couldn’t begin too early. The bell called the 60 to 65 girls of the school to gather on the back verandah. From there they moved to A6 for the morning assembly of prayer and notices. Then they moved to their classrooms, 1st Year staying in A6, 2nd Year to the Feldt Centre and 3rd Year to the room next to it.

There were 40 minute periods, at the end of which the bell rang. The pupils remained in their rooms, and the teachers moved classrooms. She remembers typing being taught in the basement room next to the Kindergarten class. 

She remembers having to produce a major work over the year for Art, and hers was a table centrepiece cloth embroidered with daffodils. She didn’t finish it, and just turned under the unfinished edge when she submitted it.

The music rooms, facilities for the day girls, and laundry rooms were in a long brick extension leading towards the field.

There was a quarter hour recess, and then an hour for lunch. The girls ate on the back verandah or in the paddock, then played basketball (similar to netball). Cows that the nuns kept for milk shared the playground – one gave birth in the lunch hour years later when Sr Janet was Principal at St Columbans! Sr Janet was disappointed that she missed it, and had to hear about it from the students.

Mother ConceptaThere was great excitement when the Sisters got their first fridge - very few homes had them. Mother Concepta O'Donohoe (the first Prioress of the Convent, pictured left) was fascinated by her discovery of iceblocks. On hot days she’d bring them out onto the back Cloister at recess as a treat for the students.

The day ended at 3.30pm, and Sr Janet would sometimes wait to travel on the same bus that the BHP workmen caught after work. She remembers this time very fondly as she spent it with friends and the sisters, chatting while they swept classrooms and tidied up. Some of the sisters who taught at St Columbanus would return to the Convent after school and tutor the High School students. This is how Sr Janet learnt shorthand.

The Day girls’ uniform was a navy box pleat tunic over a white blouse with a tie. The Boarders wore the navy tunic with a navy blouse and a starched white Peter Pan collar, and black stockings (proper stockings – no pantyhose then). The sport uniform was an apple-green tunic over a short sleeved blouse.

In 1939 the Second World War began, and San Clemente was vulnerable because of it’s proximity to the BHP Steelworks. Sr Janet remembers air-raid drills, when all the students had to scatter and lie face down in the gardens of the school.

The boarders were evacuated to schools at Maitland, Mossvale and Tamworth. The Chapel was moved from the front of the school to an internal room in 1940 as this was considered safer. It was moved back to the original room after the war.

Chapel During Ww2

Sr Janet’s last year at San Clemente was in 1940 after which she spent a year at home, looking after her sick mother and deciding whether to continue to 4th and 5th Years. She had been a Child of Mary at San Clemente, and continued her affiliation with this Religious society during this year. She continued at St Mary’s Maitland as a day girl, travelling by train then as a Boarder in 5th Year. Her favourite subjects were Biology and Physiology which she took up in 4th Year. She wanted to continue there as a Child of Mary, and had to approach each of the Sisters for their approval before she could do so.

She attained her Leaving Certificate, and after that she followed her vocation and became a Dominican Sister.

Sr Janet returned to San Clemente as a Sister in for a year in 1949 and then from 1954 - 1959, teaching at St Columbanus. At this time students used pen and ink, and she made the ink up from powder and water, with student helpers. She remembers the first migrants from Greta arriving at the schools in 1949, with no English.

Following the Dominican Irish tradition, there were two categories of Sisters – Choir and Lay. Sr Janet was a Choir Sister, and at San Clemente they sang the Divine Office morning and evening, and taught. At Easter the students would gather in the Chapel to listen to them.

The Lay Sisters chose more humble service, and managed the cooking and laundry. Students, especially boarders, were often around these areas and there were friendly relationships between them and the Sisters there. These Sisters wore black scapulas in front and behind in order to protect their habits when working. (In 1957 this division between Choir and Lay was abolished.)

Sr Janet’s bedroom was first on the right on the first floor (Marc’s office), and had double doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking the light well. There was a bell on this balcony which was rung to sound times for the Sisters at the Convent.

The was a Tram which had been purchased after they were discontinued from service in Newcastle, and this was used for Art lessons, and she remembers her brother painting the inside of it. Sister Margaret Gannon taught Saturday morning Art lessons there.

The Sisters very rarely left the Convent and school grounds as they were an enclosed order, until Vatican II brought big changes and challenges to religious life in the sixties.

In the 1950s, they went in pairs to the dentist, John Arnold, in Mayfield – he stipulated that he would be their dentist only if they visited his rooms – at other convents the dentist attended Sisters at the convent, without any equipment.