Our History | Siena College
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Our History

Our Dominican Heritage

Born in Caleruega, Spain, St Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) founded a religious order to preach the Word of God. The Order of Preachers was approved in 1216 and so began a religious tradition that has spread across the world. St Dominic believed in the power of education to develop well informed, articulate people whose lives, through prayer, community and service, would best reflect the life of Christ to the world. Dominican theologians, philosophers and preachers such as St Albertus Magnus, St Thomas Aquinas, Fransisco de Vitorio and Antonio de Montesinos inspired critical thinking of the law, the role and actions of world leaders and of the Church.

Our patron, St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), a lay Dominican whose intense spirituality inspired others around her, had considerable influence on religious thinking and on the political leaders of the day, most famously when she encouraged Pope Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome and take up his duties more directly.

Branches of the Order spread rapidly throughout Europe with a foundation in Dublin, Ireland being established in 1224. On 10 September 1867, eight Sisters from Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, arrived in Australia to settle and establish a convent at Maitland. Thus began a new chapter in the Dominican story.

In 1926, at the request of Archbishop Mannix, four Dominican Sisters from West Maitland came to Camberwell. On 12 August, MM Concepta O’Donoghue, SM Loreto Cockerill, SM Perpetua Hermann and SM Placid Flaherty were met at Spencer Street (Southern Cross) station by the Dominican Vicar-Provincial, Father Jordan Powell, the Prior of St Dominic’s, Father Hogan, Father Rupert Roche OP, Mrs Annie Rudd, a former Maitland pupil, and her daughter and cousin. A month later on 12 September, the tiny two bedroom cottage in Riversdale Road, in Camberwell, was officially opened and blessed by Archbishop Mannix.

The Sisters supported the work of the friars at St Dominic’s Parish and Primary School in Camberwell, but soon came to realise that there was a need for a secondary school. Over the next ten years, the Sisters began the planning and development of a much larger convent that would act as both convent and school for many years.

Siena Convent School opened in 1940 with fifteen enrolled students, but it was only in 1961, that a purpose built school building was developed and opened. While there have been many changes to the building, population, size and curriculum, it is the Dominican tradition that underpins our Siena community and remains a constant and living presence.

Our History

1939

Building works on the new Siena Convent and cloister completed and officially blessed and opened on 17 December by Archbishop Daniel Mannix.

1940s

Siena Convent commences its history with fifteen young women as the first students on 6 February 1940 and ends the decade with a total enrolment of fifty-seven.

The uniform is a lemon yellow checked dress, green jumper and rust blazer, but this changes due to war restrictions in obtaining the original material.

In 1943, four students become the first graduates of the Convent. Two go on to university to study Commerce and Science and two enter the Education Department.

1950s

Student enrolments go from nearly sixty to a hundred and fifty-six students.

The winter uniform consists of a simple rust tunic, green tie and rust jumper, accompanied by a rust blazer and beret.

The Dominican Sisters purchase Compton St cottage to expand the school.

1948 graduate, Ursula McKenna, receives her MBBS (Hons) in Medicine and Surgery.

The first student newspaper, Rustling Leaves, is published in 1952.

1960s

Student enrolments go from 200 to 310 students.

Uniform accessories include a green pinafore to protect the uniform and indoor shoes, to protect the parquet flooring.

Major building works commence to add a science laboratory, six classrooms, a library, a hall and administration offices.


1970s

Student enrolments go from 354 to just over 500 students.
The winter tunic becomes a skirt, while the beige summer dress is replaced by a cream dress. Hemlines shorten and hats, gloves and stockings disappear.

A major building project adds a new three storey wing connecting to the 1960s expansion. Two properties on Hocknell Street are purchased and the Compton Street cottage is converted to Music and Art and Craft rooms.

Siena Convent changes its name to Siena College.

1980s

Student enrolments go from just over 500 to 520 students.

A new administration building is added to the 1960s building extensions and a commissioned St Catherine bust is unveiled with the opening of the new building.

Hemlines lengthen, brown T-bar shoes replace lace ups and the tie is no longer used.

The College employs a total of fifty-four staff.

1990s

Student enrolments go from 522 to 616.

In the late 90s the rust winter skirt is replaced with a plaid skirt and the cream summer dress with a checked rust fabric.

An extensive two storey building is constructed at the back of the College and includes six new classrooms, multi-purpose area, four offices and a large open area.

The much loved Fiesta celebrations are introduced to celebrate St Catherine’s Day in 1999.

2000s

Student enrolments go from 637 to 664.

A St Catherine statue, sculpted by Pauline Clayton, is unveiled with the opening of the Piazza di Santa Caterina at the front of the College.

Building works commence to renovate the Convent to add a new staff room, classrooms and transform the old staff room into a Careers Centre, Student Services, offices and classrooms.

The uniform changes introduced in the late 1990s remain until 2013.
A vertical pastoral House system is introduced in 2004.

2010s

Student enrolments go from 706 to 724 in 2014.

The College undertakes major refurbishment of existing classrooms with the Thomas Aquinas Learning Centre opening in 2011.

In 2013, a new College uniform is introduced incorporating Dominican black and white colours and retaining the rust blazer.
The College joins Girls’ Sport Victoria Association.

2015-2019

Student enrolments reach nearly 800 with approximately 120 staff.

A new three storey student centre, the St Catherine Centre is completed and opened as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations in late 2015.

The transition of the new uniform is complete with all students wearing the new College uniform in 2015.

Siena College celebrates 75 years of Catholic education in the Dominican tradition in 2015, 800 years of the Dominican Order in 2016 and the 150th anniversary of the Dominican Sisters arrival in Australia in 2017.

2020

Siena College celebrates 80 years.

Archives

Siena College Archives acquires and keeps records and artefacts which document the unique history and culture of our Dominican Convent and College. Our purpose is to preserve the collective memory of the College and share the stories with our Siena community. Our holdings include non-current records, memorabilia, uniforms, photographs, yearbooks and other items related to the history and life of the College.
The Heritage Centre is situated within the Convent. It serves as a meeting place for alumnae and visitors and provides a permanent exhibition space for our heritage collection.

Research Requests

Siena College Archives provides access to the historical holdings of the College to students, staff and the wider community for research purposes.


Donations

Our heritage collection continues to grow thanks to the generous donations of past and present staff and students and the wider community. If you wish to donate memorabilia, please contact the archivist.

Contact Archives

The College Archives is open during school terms and the archivist is available to assist with all enquiries, research requests and donations. Please contact the College Archivist, Maureen McAuley via email or phone the College on 9835 0200.