We all know a wealth of knowledge can be gleaned from those who have come before us and in the last Blog ‘The Parish Priest Reminisces’ was mentioned. With our 50th Anniversary less than six months away it is timely to also reflect on the generosity, vision and a huge amount of patience from those who started the ball rolling.
If you have ever wondered how we were lucky enough to have such beautiful and extensive grounds, read on, it wasn’t luck, it was persistence, prayers and patience.
The Parish Priest Reminisces – Author Monsigneur Finlay, Vol. 1 The Rock 1969 pg. 17
St Peter’s College was not the first Catholic School for the promotion of higher culture that was opened in Gore. The last Century some 80 years ago, saw the opening of a school in East Gore by the Sisters of Mercy. In those times it was customary to have two schools, a ‘superior’ school, at which there were higher fees, and an ordinary parish school that was, more or less free. In this superior school, French was taught, and everyone knows that no person can have any claim to culture who does not know this most expressive, most accurate, and most melodious of all languages. So, the sisters taught French. They continued to teach the scholars of this town right up to forms 1 and 11 and have continued teaching all our boys and girls over the past 80 years. A tribute must be paid to those sisters who carried the burden for so long. It is gratifying that the Sisters of Mercy who pioneered the higher culture in the first years of Catholic education are again plying a full part in its rebirth at St. Peter’s.
We must also pay a tribute to the boys themselves who were never really a great problem and who were generally a very great help to the Sisters. Now and again people expressed concern that the sisters had to teach big boys, and some also said that boys need a man teacher. These ideas were often expressed, and so thoughts of a boys’ school arose. At first it was said that we could have a Brothers’ school, mainly Primary perhaps, with one or two rooms for secondary pupils. This was to be a day school for Gore boys or the Parish and perhaps for those in the neighbouring parishes who wanted to come. This was fine talk but what a task lay ahead! We had no land, no buildings and no money. The first thing was a site for the school. The parish owned only the five acres on which the present St. Mary’s school stands.
In August 1950, an advertisement appeared in the local paper: “FOR SALE IN WEST GORE: A PROPERTY OF 3 ¾ ACRES’’. In former times, it was customary for Catholics to enquire where there was a question of buying property, and a layman was instructed to make the purchase in their own name, and not divulge that it was for the Catholic Church. This was done because there was a fear that prejudice was so strong that the owners would refuse to sell their land for the promotion of Romish doctrines. However, I believed in the direct approach and so I answered the advertisement, giving the presbytery as the address. Next day I received a visit from the late Mr McGill who spoke as follows: “I received your letter concerning the property. It belongs to the McGill Estate and I am handling it. We had another reply, but I preferred to deal with you, and after all, we are friends. We are both bowlers of the Gore Bowling Club.” Mr McGill was as good as his word. When we inspected the property, it turned out to be in West Gore opening on to the present Kakapo Street, and in the middle of open land, with 15 acres to the north and 7 to the south. It was the 3 ¾ acres that are now in front of the School buildings. It wasn’t much but it was a start and we agreed to buy at 500 pounds. Mr McGill produced a Bill of Sale and, as a good Scot, said: “If we fill this in ourselves, we’ll save the 1 pound that the lawyers would charge us” and so we filled it in, and on August 7th, 1950, we were the owners of the property.
We looked round and made enquiries and found that the 10 acres to the north of us were owned by a lady in Invercargill. Both sections were owned by ladies. One was 10 acres with a house on it and the other was 5 acres. We prepared for the interview with the owner of the 10 acres by saying a lot of prayers, getting a lot of other people to say prayers and also, now and again, throwing medals over the hedge. After this preparation, we visited Invercargill to meet the owner of the property, a Mrs Coutts. We didn’t think we had very much chance; there was no need for her to sell. Anyway, we went, were well received by the lady who said that she would sell at a price that would bring in, in interest, the same revenue that she now received in rent. This turned out to be 3000 pounds. On consulting with our advisers in Gore, we decided that it was a good price, and we were prepared to buy. The lady’s agent in Gore did not make things easy for us. In fact, it took us one month of negotiations before we were able to finalise the deal. Thus, it was a great relief that we were able to sign on the dotted line and the 10 acres were ours.
In the following year, a section in Robertson Street was bought for 200 pounds and the late Mr. Joseph Howard came to the presbytery one day and said, ‘I thought that section was so good, I bought the one alongside it, and I’ll make a donation of it”. These sections today could not be bought for 2000 pounds.
It was realised that the property would not be any good till we had completed the block and bought the neighbouring 5 acres which would give us a complete frontage in Coutts Road from Robertson St. to Kakapo Street. This, as I said earlier, was also owned by a woman. We went and asked her, and she said, ‘The price is 3000 pounds” and she explained that she had arrived at that price because it was the amount she could obtain if she sub-divide it. We pointed out to her that it would cost a very great deal to sub-divide. She would have to pay the cost of putting a street through, channelling and curbing and the cost of surveying and sub-division, but she said, “The people next door would pay half.” However, that was not so, because we were the people next door and we never intended to sub-divide. Anyway, she would NOT move, nor would she reduce the amount. We talked this over among the men of the Parish and the men on the Committee. I seemed an exorbitant price. I then went back to make an appeal to her and said “This property is not being bought for speculation, nor for making money, but to build a school for the education of boys in Christian living, to make good citizens and good Christians and that we hadn’t the money; we would have to collect it in sixpences and shillings and that anyone who was a benefaction would be remembered and prayed for, for time immemorial.” My words fell on deaf ears. “The price is 3000 pounds.” So, we put it to the Committee at the time and without any hesitation they said we must have this property to complete the block and it was proposed that we should buy it. In May 1955, we became the owners of this extra five acres. We now had 18 ¾ acres, a complete block, and were ready to start.
Five years later, the property on the other side of Kakapo St. plus a house came on the market and we were advised to purchase it for it probably would be sub-divided and could be of great use to the school. So, in 1960, we added this extra five acres, and the following year the Committee men considered that the seven remaining acres on which the school building now stands, should be bought, as they could never be bought later, and it would be impossible to have too much land. One of the men, I remember, who was the most insistent on this and most concerned and worried lest we lose it, was Mr. Jack Crowley, one of our Committee members. As a result, the Committee sent a recommendation to His Lordship, the Bishop, that this property should be purchased. The cost was heavy, 7000 pounds, but it was a wise thing to buy it and so, in 1961, it was purchased. We had had the present property, some 30 acres, enough on which to build a school with ample provision for playing fields and further extensions.
Written by Bernie Weller