History on a hilltop

The inner-city Newcastle suburb of Mayfield has a history of transforming itself to suit the times.

It formed part of the hunting grounds for the original Aboriginal inhabitants. Then during the era of white colonisation, it transformed from an agricultural abode of the wealthy, to a blue-collar industrial area that welcomed people from all over the world to work in factories that provided steel for the nation.  

After BHP closed its doors in 2000, the suburb again changed its identity. This was partly fuelled by the NSW government’s investment in the city’s urban renewal.

San Clemente High School is located on a Mayfield hilltop. The Dominican order of nuns established the school in 1916 and as Mayfield evolved so too did the high school.

It was founded initially as both a boarding school and day school, offering secondary education for young ladies. Boarding ceased after 60 years and 10 years later young males were invited to join the student body. 

Over time the school has expanded its numbers and added to its campus footprint. A walk through the grounds of San Clemente reveals why so many people love it. The school’s 720 students and staff have the best of both worlds — beautiful historic buildings as well as fantastic modern facilities, all set against well-manicured gardens. It is an idyllic setting in which to teach and learn. 

Today, 22 November, Vicar General Fr Andrew Doohan, and Senator Perin Davey, officiated the blessing and opening of San Clemente’s Veritas Centre and its associated learning areas. 

The hall and classroom project was designed to provide the San Clemente community with a new place to meet, share and celebrate for students, teachers and families.  

Principal, Bernard Burgess, said the design of the centre promoted inquiry-based learning to prepare students for life beyond school.  

“Education is changing, and as a school, we're looking to evolve with that change,” he said. “The new facilities provide our students with environments that better reflect the ‘real world’ and will assist in preparing them for future study and career pathways through promoting collaboration and flexibility.” 

Ella Howarth, a Year 8 student at San Clemente, was very keen to get access to the new classrooms and hall after watching them being constructed. Now they have opened Ella has been able to take part in the team-building lessons, made possible by the flexible design, which she described as being “so fun”. 

“Our more traditional classes are great, but sometimes it’s a good idea to work with new people as it helps you to get to know pretty much everyone,” said Ella.

Given each year level at San Clemente is made up of about 180 students originating from several feeder primary schools, there is a need for classes that encourage interaction.  

“When we open the doors it enables us to work as a bigger group, which is better as there are more people to join in the lesson,” Ella said.  

“It helps us to learn, as the teachers bounce ideas off each other, and while they’ve both got similar thoughts, it also allows us to gain different perspectives.”  

Mr Burgess said the finished product is probably far beyond anyone's expectations for a multipurpose hall. “It’s set a benchmark,” he said, “Tony Kelly, San Clemente’s former principal during the initial stages of the project should be exceptionally proud, and I commend him for his vision.”

“We're fortunate to have received just over $3 million in government funding towards this project, as well as $5 million in support from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle via the Catholic Development Fund and the Diocesan School Building Levy. At a school level, we also contributed just over $700,000. The investment has enabled us to bring together architects, builders and educators to create what I think is a spectacular space for students and staff and an exciting chapter in our school’s history.” 

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Lizzie Snedden Image
Lizzie Snedden

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.