Marist College Penshurst was established, at the urging of Father Joseph Breen, the Parish Priest of St Declan’s, as “Marist Brothers Penshurst” in 1953 when Kogarah Marist could no longer accommodate the boys from the Penshurst area. The school opened with 160 Primary School boys in three classes, on 27 January of that year.
Three Marist Brothers, Brother Leopold Smith, the first Principal, Brother Basil and Brother Sixtus formed the first community and ran the school. They lived in a house at 33 Victoria Avenue until a purpose built monastery was built on the school site in 1958. The building now houses the teaching and administrative staff.
Brother Leopold was to see the first class through to the Intermediate Examination in 1957.
Brother Thomas More Davison took over as Principal in 1960 and during the next few years he oversaw the construction of the oval, with the assistance of the parents and students.
Brother Dunstan Cavanagh was appointed Principal in 1962 and during this time, Penshurst Marist became a Fourth Form school under the 1962 Wyndham Scheme. The school developed into a three-stream school in the Secondary classes; a new block of six classrooms and toilet facilities was opened in 1965; and in 1967 a new Primary School and Science Laboratories were built.
The original 1953 building that now forms part of the La Valla Centre and the Library (Right)
Brother Simon Murphy became Principal in 1968. By now there was a community of nine Brothers and four lay teachers teaching 430 boys in both Primary and Secondary classes.
Brother John Thompson took over the leadership of the school from 1974 until 1976. During these years the strong family community spirit which has always characterised the College became a notable feature of Penshurst Marist.
Brother Ronald Blyth, Principal from 1977 until 1980, led the school to its Silver Jubilee year in 1978.
Brother Salvius Glass replaced Brother Ronald in 1981 and took the school into a new era over the next eight years. He, again, strengthened the renowned family spirit of the school and helped consolidate the values of the school after a period of social change which changed the nature of Australian society. His sudden death in 1989 produced an outpouring of grief that was quite marked: the display of affection and emotion was quite unprecedented and remains a tribute to a greatly loved Principal.
Brother Neil O’Leary assumed the reins of leadership in 1990. It fell to him to phase out Primary education at Penshurst Marist in 1992, freeing classroom space for the increasing number of students in the Secondary school. This also allowed him to improve some of the specialty areas of Secondary education such as Technology and Applied Studies. To this end, he oversaw the construction of a new TAS block which straddles the bottom yard and the oval. Refurbishment of the old TAS area gave valuable space to the Music Department; the developing needs of Computer Technology were also catered for throughout several areas in the school. Under Brother Neil’s leadership the Parents and Friends Association flourished and this body was responsible for much fundraising over these and the following years in the form of the Art and Craft Show.
Brother Neil was responsible for increasing the school enrolment from 400 to 530 students and also for a great improvement in the academic results of the school. He also oversaw the development of a strong Pastoral Care program and the cultivation of a greater sense of responsibility among the senior Year Ten students.
Brother John McDonnell, Principal from 2000 until 2005, saw to the consolidation of the values and achievements of the 1990s and undertook a much needed refurbishment of many areas of the school. During his time the school celebrated its Golden Jubilee (2003). The courtyard area and the stained glass windows in the original 1953 building stand as testimony of Brother John’s work.
Mr Tony Duncan, the first lay Principal of the school, saw the beginning of a new era for Marist College Penshurst.