The family of Holy Cross Primary School teacher Melissa Olivier, has links with the school as far back as the 1920s. In this photo Ms Olivier is shown with her mother, past pupil Ruth Olivier (née Giles) and her nieces Ashley (far left) and Tegan Gerber (far right).
GEORGE NEWS - On 14 September Holy Cross George will be 120 years old. Headmasters, teachers and pupils from nine Holy Cross schools in Southern Africa and Namibia will come to celebrate this milestone in George.
A weekend jam-packed with activities has been arranged. Celebrations will begin with the annual Spring Fair on Saturday 12 September. Breakfast will be served from 08:00 in the St Augustine Hall and there will be various stalls and top class entertainment during the morning.
Holy Cross is particularly excited that the provincial leader, Sister Monica together with past principal Sister Anne O'Gorman and well-known senior primary teacher Sister Agatha Byrne and other Holy Cross sisters will be with them for the weekend. Go to the fair, enjoy a morning of fun and reminisce with the sisters. Celebrations will end on the school's actual birthday, Monday 14 September.
A mass in St Augustine Hall will be held at 09:30 on this day and will be celebrated by Bishop Frank de Gouveia. All welcome.
How it all began
Father Theodosius Florentini (1808 – 1865) felt strongly that education should be available to all people and he founded a congregation of Teaching Sisters. The task he set for the sisters was 'the teaching and education of Christian youth'. One of his pupils, Maria Anna Heimgartner (1822 – 1863), was a pioneer of the Order of the Holy Cross Sisters in Menzingen, Switzerland. She was later known as Mother Bernarda.
Missionaries in Southern Africa
On 12 July 1883 the first five Holy Cross Sisters arrived in Durban. They had answered the call to be missionaries in Southern Africa and travelled by steamship from Southampton. After arriving in this strange land, far from home, not knowing the local languages, these brave ladies travelled up the St John's River. They continued their journey to Umtata by ox wagon where, against all odds, they established their first school and a hospital.
Many other schools, missions and/or hospitals were established. After 1907 many more Holy Cross Sisters came to Africa. Convents were opened in the Transkei, Western Cape, Gauteng, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia. By 1970 there were 40 convents and 400 sisters.
In 1895, only 12 years after arriving in Southern Africa, six sisters were invited to take charge of the little school in George. Father Devereux had opened this school in 1843 to the Catholic children of George and surrounds.
The sisters travelled by road to East London, by boat to Mossel Bay and by ox wagon to George. They were given a little old thatch cottage on the corner of Hibernia and Meade streets (the building stands there to this day) from where they ran St Joseph's Convent.
Their arrival made front page news in the George & Knysna Herald. The community welcomed them and introduced themselves by holding a sale of fancy needlework and paintings. This was the beginning of 'The Convent Bazaar' - a wonderful, annual tradition that continues to this day albeit under a different name.
After three months in George the sisters welcomed their first boarder, Mary Vaughan, all the way from Avontuur in the Langkloof. By 1901 there were 23 boys and girls and in 1920 there were 100 boarders. The children came from all over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, East Africa and the Congo.
The boarders would travel to Herold's Bay by ox wagon to spend short school holidays. The beach house and Maris Stella chapel (1940) are still an integral part of the Herold's Bay community.
Boarding facilities were closed in 1988, after 93 years of service to the community of parents.
Interesting facts from the past
Spanish Flu - The end of World War 1 brought a deadly epidemic known as the Spanish Flu all over the world and the town of George was not spared. With only one doctor and no nurses in the town, the Holy Cross Sisters offered their services. Children were made to take quinine and cinnamon and camphor bags were hung around each child's neck.
The children had to sniff and gargle with salt water three times a day. It is estimated that almost half a million people died in South Africa at this time. Although five sisters and 38 children went down with flu, there were no deaths at the school.
The Statue of Our Lady – Three children from the Nannucci family of Cape Town (well known for their dry cleaning business) were boarders at the Convent. Yolanda took ill and died of diabetes complications before her parents could get to George from Cape Town. To honour the memory of their daughter, the family imported a beautiful statue of Our Lady that still stands in the school grounds today.
Convent 'Crocodile' – Dressed in school uniform or 'Sunday best', the boarders always went on walks to the base of the forests on Sunday afternoons. The children had to walk in single file and were fondly named by the locals as the 'Convent Crocodile'.
Building for the future
In the early days there were about 20 pupils. Housed in the original building in Hibernia Street, the school numbered 100 pupils in 1902. By the beginning of the century steps were taken to establish a high school in the building attached to the convent. The high school was private and staffed by sisters who did not draw a salary. In 1902 the high school section had 48 pupils.
In 1968, due to a lack of funds, the high school sadly closed. The classrooms were renovated and the Holy Cross Convent Primary School moved up from the old building. In 1979 the old primary school in Hibernia Street was demolished.
After 1981 the school grew with the granting of additional teachers. Sadly, the convent was closed and the sisters left George at the end of 1995. The school name changed to what it is today - Holy Cross Primary School.
From humble beginnings the school today includes a pre-primary school and has a total of 450 pupils and 40 personnel. It continues to strive to ensure a holistic, well-balanced education and pupils receive a structured, carefully planned academic programme in a caring environment.
In recent years the school has received recognition by the Western Cape Education Department as one of the top schools of excellence in the National Assessments.
Holy Cross, George, is an integral part of George. It continues to be known for its academic excellence, spirited sport and exceptional standard of music. The vision of Father Florentini to "teach and educate Christian children" continues to this day.