Director of Business Operations
I spent the Easter break with my family at Hill End NSW, an 1860s gold rush town with few original buildings remaining. What stands in each of the now cleared spaces is a plaque with a photo illustrating what was once there. Although the photographs are small and the words brief, I could feel the community spirit, history and legacy left behind.
In my role as Director of Business Operations, part of my responsibility is custodianship of the Loreto Normanhurst buildings and wonderful grounds that students and staff enjoy each day. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to share some of the history and intricacies of the site – a place which has served as a home away from home to thousands of boarders and educated many thousands more day students, for over 120 years.
The current school site was part of the 320 acres granted in 1831 to the convict-turned-constable Samuel Horne, from whom the name Hornsby is derived. The Horne Estate was subsequently purchased in 1875 by farmer Oliver Osborn. In 1896, Members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) purchased 22 acres of land on the southern side of Pennant Hills Road from the Osborn family. This land was to be used for the Loreto Convent and School. When the convent was constructed in 1897 there were four nuns and 15 boarders. The convent comprised of a main two storey building with 16 feet-high ceilings on the ground floor and 15 feet-high ceilings on the first floor housing the dorms and chapel. This building is still in use today as part of our Boarding School and is known as the ‘1897 building’. Over the years additional land was purchased to bring the campus to its current size of 25 acres and further buildings, many initially in timber, were added to accommodate the growing number of students. In 1895 the South Hornsby Railway Station was established, renamed in 1900 to Normanhurst Station, providing a direct service to the school.
By 1956, the school had grown to 225 students, including 120 boarders, with 18 teaching staff, 15 of whom were nuns. The school has continued to evolve over the years, both in its physical site and learning offerings and to its current enrolment of 1100 students, of whom over 150 are boarders, and up to 400 members of staff.
The convent, designed by architects Hennessy and Sheerin in 1897, who were noted designers of ecclesiastical buildings and schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a prominent feature and highly visible in the area when travelling along Pennant Hills Road due to its elevated position.
The Pennant Hills Road frontage featuring the original sandstone posts and surrounds with wrought iron gates is of heritage significance, as are the gardens, mature trees and cultural plantings to the north and north east of the 1897 building. Period planting includes mature Brush Box, Canary Island Pines, Hoop Pines, Butia Pine, Norfolk Island Pine, Pencil Pines and Camphor Laurels.
The small cemetery, nestled in the native bushland of the Blue Gum High Forest in the southern section of the site, dates from the 1890s. A clearing surrounds the space which is enclosed by an ashlar sandstone wall. The cemetery is divided by a stone path, flanked by two rows of cast iron Celtic crosses. Three marble tablets also remain, identifying the resting place of three of the pioneer IBVM nuns. The surrounding bushland consists of protected native trees including Blue Gums, Sydney Red Gums, Blackbutts and Acacias.
The unique aspect of our site also presents its own challenges. In developing the school’s 30-year master plan, key factors included the conservation of the heritage features of the campus, as well as consideration of the surrounding community, bush and fire issues, and the sloping nature of the site. We will meet these challenges with our strategic and well-designed plan which will take Loreto Normanhurst forward to the middle of this century and ensure good stewardship of this special place for future generations to come.
Although some physical features of the school have changed over the years, and new buildings developed to facilitate the dynamic requirements of 21st century learning, the proud heritage and community spirit of Loreto Normanhurst has certainly endured. A walk through the historic main gates from Pennant Hills Road towards the original 1897 building, or a wander down to the bush beyond the playing fields and to the Loreto Sisters cemetery, brings with it a sense of awareness and appreciation for this beautiful place and community that we are blessed to be part of every day.
Mrs Jacquie McCann
Director of Business Operations