A Rewarding Journey….
“Unless the grain of wheat dies, itself remaineth alone, but if it dies, it will produce much fruit.” – The truth of this statement is exemplified in the life and death of Mother Mary St. Ignatius Rjm, (Claudine Thevenet), foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, who like the grain of wheat, sought to remain hidden and unknown during her lifetime, desiring no recognition, no praise for her work, which she started in Lyon, later moving from France to India.
On 30th June 1842 the Sisters of Jesus and Mary were bound for Agra to set up their first foundation there, they had their first glimpse of Bombay, the city which held great promise of a fruitful future for the Religious of Jesus and Mary. Already the thought of a foundation in this city, with 25,000 Catholics and its complete lack of Catholic schools began to germinate. In 1850, Bombay with its remarkable and rather peculiar ecclesiastical position, its complete absence of catholic educational institutions was a city crying for help.
Bishop Hartman asked Mother Theresa the Provincial Superior to accept the offer of a foundation in Bombay. Mother convoked her council, prayed for light from the Holy Spirit and after due deliberation accepted the offer in Bombay. Mother Saint Leo from Waverly Mussoori led the new community.
On 8th November 1850 the pioneer community set out on its 1200 kms. Trek to Bombay. The journey which lasted 40 days was made in stage by bullock cart, halting at ‘dak’ (travelers) Bungalow and a spinney or large topes (a clump of trees) which would provide sufficient shelter for a few hours, during which time they would take a quick meal. Because of the heat it was necessary to travel by night and the very early hours of the morning.
The sisters were exposed to many hardships and dangers as well as hair breadth escapes. At such times they trusted in God alone to keep them safe. The next trial awaited them before Thane, where they had to cross the arm of the sea, which separated Bombay Island from the mainland. They went over in a large flat open boat on which were placed carts, bullocks, luggage and themselves. On 18th December 1850 the sisters had at last arrived in Bombay and were directed to a House in Nesbit Lane, Mazagaon, not far from the present St. Anne’s Church. Bishop Hartman welcomed them warmly.
Mother St. Leo then opened a school at Nesbit Road in Mazagaon in 1868, which was known as St. Anne’s School. This school was meant for the day pupils especially the poor. The school kept pace with the Educational system and it was well run. The enrolment had increased and the school was transferred to Clare Road, Byculla to meet the needs of all the Catholics in Byculla who were unable to attend the European School. It was renamed St. Agnes’ School.
It was the year 1912, which became the landmark year in the history of the school. It was in this year that the school was recognized by the Education Department, owing to the high standard of Education imparted here. The school prepared pupils for the State Examination.
Mother St. Catherine was named the Directress of St. Agnes’ in 1933. Under here, the school progressed. Unable to change the exterior, she brought interior changes, a method of love and service. Mother St. Catherine was destined to play an important role in the running of St. Agnes’ School. Her enterprise and influence on the school was tremendous. She served as a dynamic Principal from 1933 to 1958.
St. Agnes’ School shared the same compound as the European or Cambridge Section (ICSC) ANOTHER SCHOOL RUN BY THE Sisters of Jesus and Mary. It was scattered between an old building called the Garden House and a few inconvenient class rooms in the very old part of the convent. Std. VII & VIII were housed in a cottage, which was at the ground level. During the monsoons, the cottage got flooded and turkeys and ducks strutted in for a swim, much to the amazement of the students. The teachers who had to trudge back and forth from the cottage to the main building at the gate where Std. IX, X, and XI were housed, were definitely not amused.
The primary section was housed in the rented building in the adjoining compound called the “Aga Khan Compound” on a 99 years lease. In this entire scattered environment lay the great challenge for Mother Catherine which she met valiantly. Mother Catherine was determined to have ta truly vibrant school, for after all it was not the building, but the staff and pupils who created the spirit of the institution.
Mother Catherine’s extraordinary influence on the students and their parents became widely known. Children from all communities and economic backgrounds were provided exemplary education. Many of the wealthier Indian families preferred their daughters to be taught at St. Agnes’ rather than any other school, and so Parsis, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians stormed the Principal’s office for admission.
During World War II, the doors of St. Agnes’ were open to children of the refugees who poured into Bombay from Burma, Malay, Africa and the Middle East. Military men of all nations and classes were given a large-hearted welcome, when they approached the school.
Some of the faithful staff during the years of Mother Catherine’s Principal-ship were Ms. Erenestine Britto, Ms. Rose Britto, Mrs. Currie, Ms. Rhoda, Ms. Ruth, Ms. Jo, the assistant Headmistress Mrs. Bonici, Mrs. Gala, Mrs. B. D’Silva and Sister Genevieve, Sister Bridget, Sister Lydia and Sister Hyacinthia.
On August 15, 1947, when India got her independence, the Clare Road schools united in the grandest, possible celebrations. The compound displayed an array of orange, green and white festoons fluttering in the breeze. Students dressed in national colours, brought in the independence with a generous balance of gaiety and solemnity.
The construction of the School Hall in 1953 was an important step towards improvement and growth. The credit for this goes to Mother St. Loyola, who was the Superioress of Bombay, and to Mother Catherine. The hall built at the end of the compound, enabled the students to organize daily orderly assemblies, concerts, socials, P.T. displays, old pupils reunions and numerous other creative and social activities.
However, the most urgent need at St. Agnes’ was that of creating more classroom space. The section of the school, which was housed in the adjacent factory building had become intolerable as the owners of the property had let out one part of the compound to mechanics, who had set up repair shops for motor vehicles and sheds for iron mongers. The din of the hammering and beating of the iron and the shrieks of the horns, along with the shouts and cries of the workers, made the process of teaching and educating, a tedious one. Then, to add to these conditions, a block of tenements was erected close to the gate. It thus became imperative, either to close down this section or build an entirely new school. Space was scarce as the Convent compound was already overcrowded.
Then came the bright idea to break down the Garden House and the old servants’ quarters nearby and plan a building on ‘American Lines’, that is, to build upward rather than spread outwards.
Donations were sought and concerts were organized to raise funds. The task was colossal, but not impossible. The vision was to make St. Agnes’ a model school with science rooms, library, geography room, convenient wash rooms on every floor, and a roof garden overlooking wide stretches of the city.
Mother Sr. Felix, who was the next Superioress of Bombay, contributed to this history, with the sanction of Rev. Mother Del Rosario, Superioress General, she undertook the construction of the new block.
Endless inconveniences were endured during the period of construction. Classes had to be put into every nook and cranny of the old building. Even the hall had to be given over to the classes. New furniture had to be made and new equipment and apparatus acquired. Funds were short, but the high optimism helped in managing the cost.
January 1958 saw the large three-storied building nearing completion. On 15th January 1958, it was solemnly blessed by Reverend Father J. Valls. Today the building is presently St. Agnes’ School. Soon after this, Mother Catherine had to leave St. Agnes’, due to poor health.
Mother Pia Nazareth, then took on the mantle of Principal ship and remained Principal from 1958 to 1965. Mother Pia was another dynamic personality, who took St. Agnes’ to still greater heights. Her character, her creativity, organizing abilities, her perseverance and foresight, were much admired.
There was no sphere of activity at St. Agnes’ that she did not touch and change for the better, be it Teacher’s Day, the Annual fetes on St. Agnes’ feast day, Prize Distribution Day, Sports Day, the School Magazine or the School Calendar. She introduced inter-class and inter-house competitions throughout the year, though never at the cost of excellence in academics. She labored vigorously to bring the school into the lime light, especially in the field of sports. The school participated in the Inter School Athletics and won many laurels. Another added feature was hockey, a game in which the school excelled at State and Interstate levels under the able guidance of the dynamic and enthusiastic P.T. Teacher, Mrs. S. D’Souza.
Mother Pia strengthened the House System. The students were divided into four houses: St. Mathew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John, along with the respective house colour: red, blue, green and yellow. A head girl was elected; house prefects were appointed and given various responsibilities.
Under the guidance of Mother Pia the E-Agnesians was launched on 12th October, 1962. Ms. G. D’Souza and Ms. Zohra Razzak were the joint secretaries.
The next decade ushered in by Sister Esperanza Ribeiro from 1965 to 1975 was now time for the old building at the gate to be brought down. Under her guidance the new building was completed in 1967. The foundation stone of this building was laid by his Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracious, Archbishop of Bombay. At this stage the Primary Section moved into the Jesus and Mary Campus, and the rented Aga Khan house was handed over to its owner.
Sister Esperanza also laid the foundation of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in 1971. Mr. A.N. Dedanwala, along with a few dedicated parents and teachers, were the first members. The first General Body Meeting was held on Sunday, October 3, 1971, and ever since the PTA has functioned very fruitfully, doing commendable service for the school.
Going along with the changes in the Government Education System, the Junior College Std. XI was introduced in the school and outstanding SSC Students were enrolled for the course.
Another landmark year in the history of St. Agnes’ was 1975. June 10 was the amalgamation of Clare Road, Cambridge section and St. Agnes’ High School. This herculean task was undertaken by Sister Cecily. All the students who opted to join St. Agnes’ had to be accommodated in the S.S.C. Section. There were now five divisions for each standard. In spite of the large numbers, the school maintained an excellent standard in academics as well as in the arena of sports. In her brief tenure of four years 1975 to 1979, Sister Cecily embodied a rare and remarkable combination of intellect and courage of vigour and compassion, of devotion and dedication, which focused on the well-being of the school.
The next Principal was Sister Prudence D’Souza from 1979 to 1982. One of the highlights of her tenure was the establishment of a huge library in 1981 dedicated to an exemplary staff member, who loyally served the school for 35 years – Ms. Rose Alphonso. The Claudine Thevenet Park a memento to the beatification of our Mother Foundress was also set up. Sister Prudence took a keen interest in the personality development of the students through retreats, group masses and orientation programs.
1982 to 1986 – in a short span of three years another dynamic principal Sr. Francesca Baptista took over the harness of the school, aiming at achieving perfection. Laboratories were shifted to the main Senior School building. The entire ISC Building was now occupied only by the primary section, except for the library which was common to all. Sr. Francesca was innovative, creative and extremely meticulous in her planning and administration.
She tapped the talents of both, the staff and the students. An efficient (and one of the largest) student council was appointed in her tenure, that covered all the leadership areas of the school. For the first time, the assistant Head Girl was appointed from Std. IX, to ensure a smooth transition of leadership and responsibility.
The Regular Attendance Fund and medical benefits for the teachers were introduced. The Agnesian ’84, a gala fete organized by the PTA was a grand success, and brought staff and parents in close contact creating a wonderful family spirit. The funds collected were used to develop a large renovated dining room-cum-terrace for the students.
Sister Diana Colaco took over the reins in 1986. She was a person of quick action and had the added advantage of knowing the regional language Marathi, which speeded the process of approvals from the Education Department. It was during her tenure that the school celebrated the Platinum Jubilee in 1987. The present St. Agnes’ Alumni Association was also revived in this year. She made special efforts to regain the athletic supremacy of the inter school level by appointing efficient and experienced coaches to train the young Agnesians.
Sister Prudence with her humane personality and gentle smile, once again joined the Agnesian family as Principal from 1984-2002.
Sister Arina Gonsalves took over in the year 2002 and carried the school forward upto 2008. She was a strict disciplinarian and reached out to the less fortunate. An ardent lover of music, she was instrumental in introducing the school band.
In her short term of 2008 to 2011, Sister Flory Fargose, with her ever-radiant smile, won a place in the hearts of all who interacted with her. She added colours to the students, by introducing the P.T. Uniforms, based on the respective House colours.
St. Agnes’ today is under the able leadership of Sister Louisa D’Mello, who had the herculean task of leading the prestigious school into its next century, with a renewed vision. She took over from June 2011, and began shouldering the challenging task of organizing the centenary year.
St. Agnes’ has had a long tradition of excellence in the field of education, carrying on the heritage received from Blessed Claudine Thevenet. Thousands of young girls have left the annals of the school to become humane, sensitive and talented women, achieving excellence in varied fields. The school, through holistic education has been instrumental in developing confident achievers and has contributed successfully to the school at large.
The school motto ‘Excelsior’, Ever Higher, Ever Onward’ will always be the greatest inspiration for every Agnesian, past, present and future!
We have celebrated our Centenary year in 2012. May God bless this esteemed institution so that it soars to greater heights of glory through the efforts of every teacher who should be ‘THE MESSAGE’ who strongly holds God as the most influential power in one’s life, in order to be instrumental in moulding the young and thereby bringing about a better world.