St. Thomas High School originated at the urgent request of parents of children attending St. Monica’s Primary School as there was no high school in South End and surrounds including Salisbury Park for Coloured children. These parents approached the Blessed Oliver Plunkett Church and on 7 October 1938, Maris Stella convent was officially opened in South End to house the Irish Dominican Sisters who were to teach at St. Thomas.
St. Thomas opened its doors on 27 January 1941 in an adjoining building of the convent belonging to Mr Wiggit. There were six pupils. The first principal was Sr Mannes and she was assisted by Srs. Clara and Stephanie. These early days were hard with makeshift desks and tables and only one room for both principal’s office and classroom. On 8 February 1941, the school was officially named and blessed by Fr. Coyle. The first matriculants wrote the Joint Matriculation Board in 1942 and all seven entrants passed well.
In 1946 renovations could be done to the building with funds accumulated from raffles, bazaars and donations, but it became imperative in 1947 to seek State aid and the Department of Education undertook to subsidise pupils at this Vocational Commercial School. The Irish Dominican congregation, however, still had to relieve financial deficits of thousands of rand during these years. Teachers now included Sr. Clar, Sr. Bernadette, Sr. Francis, Sr. Lewis Bertrand, Mr F. Williams and Dennis Brutus. School life was characterised by a strong family spirit enhanced by the fact that most teachers and pupils were Catholic. By 1948 the roll was seventy pupils and when the Inspector of Schools from the Union Education Department visited St. Thomas in October 1949, he was impressed by the fine order of the books and classroom!
By 1960 St. Thomas was functioning under the auspices of the Department of Coloured Affairs and in 1961 workmen began on the foundation of a new block of classrooms, one of which would house sixteen new typewriters. Inspectors Spokes and Bosman were well pleased with what they encountered in 1962 and pupil enrolment was eighty eight by 1963.
As a result of the Group Areas Act, it became apparent that St. Thomas would have to close down or be recited. After three applications for resiting were refused the then Commissioner for Coloured Affairs, Mr FL Gaum, sympathetically received another application and after many obstacles had been overcome, the Cabinet of the Order kindly leased the present site to the Dominican Sisters for educational purposes.
On Good Friday 1974, the children of St. Thomas sang their Easer hymns at assembly in South End for the last time. A few days later bulldozers would flatten the classrooms in which they had sat their lessons, the then principal, Sr. Lewis Bertrand, said at this assembly, ” I am sorry for South End because it was such a friendly, cosmopolitan community. There was no racial friction whatsoever. Many people grew up around the Convent. They came to us with their joys and sorrows.” The convent was also demolished and the twelve nuns living there, moved to the Holy Rosary Convent in Western Road.
So St. Thomas moved from South End to Gelvandale in the Northern Areas, to the corner of Beetlestone and Kobus Roads where it is still a landmark and, more importantly, an institution providing moral, cultural, aesthetic, religious and physical education to the community.
The building in Geivandale cost R230 000,00 and accommodated 300 children. On 21 August 1975, the school was officially opened by the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, member of the Executive of the Coloured Persons Representative Council entrusted with education. Also present were the bishop of Port Elizabeth, Bishop Murphy, and Mr FL Gaum, Commissioner of Coloured Affairs. The first principal was Sr. Gonzales and she was followed by Sr. Aiden.
On 29 March 1984, a historic contract was signed by the then principal, Mr T.R. Pillay, with the Department of Community Development for renovations to the school worth four million. Improvements would include twenty new classrooms, as well as facilities for woodwork, ballet, typing, art and drama and a spacious playground with sports fields. The enrolment at this stage was 411 pupils but the new buildings would accommodate 1200 students.
Mr E.L.J. Africa succeeded Mr T.R. Pillay in 1985 and our present principal Mr M. Dana, took over the reigns in 1997. There was then an enrolment of 1300 pupils and 64 staff members.
We owe the existence of St. Thomas High School to the Dominican Sisters, a religious order 700 years old, who brought their expertise and tradition to South Africa and enriched it with their virtues and scholarship. We give thanks and praise to them.
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