Our journey

boys in reading room

Hunters Hill is famous among Sydney suburbs for its Gallic heritage. Frenchmen were its first civic leaders and built its grand homes and public buildings; the French Consul-General lived in Passy Avenue; and the Marist Brothers, a Catholic order from France, built a beautiful sandstone boarding school for boys.

The lower north shore settlement was already known as the French village when in February 1872, four Marist Brothers off a three-month voyage from London caught the ferry from Erskine St to Villa Maria Wharf in Tarban Creek. They had come from France to open Australia’s first Marist Brothers school, in Harrington Street in The Rocks.

With their house in the city not yet ready, they were invited to stay with the Marist Fathers, who had bought land in Hunters Hill in 1847 with the help of Bordeaux-born local resident Didier Joubert, a wine and spirit merchant. Didier and his brother Jules, both major landholders in the area, went on to subdivide and develop Hunters Hill (they take much of the credit for the suburb’s leafy, sandstone charm).

In 1876, Didier sold 10 acres for 300 pounds to the Marist Brothers for their planned boarding school, which they would transfer from Harrington St, and novitiate. Five years later, on 18 July 1881, the Lane Cove steamer brought 44 boys from Erskine St to Fig Tree Wharf. Their new school was a four-minute walk up the hill. St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill had begun.

boys playing musical instruments on stage

As Joeys 150th anniversary approaches, the College community led by Headmaster Mr Michael Blake has delivered its next Strategic Plan – Meliora 140+.

The College engaged Australian educational research group MMG to conduct an audit of the school’s offerings and benchmark them against other leading Australian schools. The results were extraordinarily positive. More than 92 per cent of respondents classified Joeys as meeting or exceeding expectations in the areas of values, teaching quality, resources and facilities, reputation and traditions, and providing a safe and caring environment.

There are many traditions and values that define Joeys and the strong and singular community around it. Humility, simplicity, modesty. Family and mateship. Authenticity and egalitarianism. An inclusive, caring, family-like boarding culture that applies to day boys as much as those who sleep over. 

Respecting these life-giving traditions that have made the College strong is a pillar of the plan that will take Joeys into the future. Another is renewing the vision of the College founders, the Marist Brothers, who dreamed of building a great school in Hunters Hill and did so, the magnificent sandstone building making a statement to colonial Sydney that they were here, and proudly Catholic, to educate young men for an emerging nation. They have done that, too, producing a Governor General (Sir William Deane) and a Chief Justice of the High Court (Murray Gleeson).

Joeys will also constantly challenge how it can do things better, focused as always on the boys that it is here to educate and the all-round experience they gain during their time at Joeys. Responding adaptively to the challenges of humanity is the third pillar guiding the plan. This is about the men who graduate from Joeys being quality citizens who want not just the best for themselves, but are thinking of future generations and the legacy they can leave through their contributions in a world where change is constant, and challenges are real and present. 

Shaping the College

Blessing of rowing boat

Br Emilian Hall, where boys gather every Thursday for the Headmaster’s Assembly, and where Family Mass is held each term, bears the name of the first Director of St Joseph’s College. Br Emilian Pontet arrived from France via Noumea in November 1878. He became Director of St Patrick’s secondary school, receiving the first four boarders there in 1879 before transferring the boarding college to Hunters Hill two years later. The teaching staff in the early years, apart from a clutch of Latin and music teachers, were all Marist Brothers, members of an order established by Father Marcellin Champagnat in La Valla, France, to teach rural boys otherwise deprived of a Christian education. Other Brothers of legend whose names adorn College buildings today include Br Louis Hughes (the Br Louis Music Centre), to whom the College owes its art collection and Chapel, and Br Liguori O’Hearn, a gifted mathematician whose students from 1922 to 1966 regularly achieved brilliant HSC results. A photograph of him standing before a blackboard looms large over boys in the Br Liguori Resources Centre; his legacy is also in the Sydney Harbour Bridge after his expertise was sought to solve a tricky construction problem.     

Hundreds of Marist Brothers have taught at St Joseph’s, their proportion to lay teachers declining steadily from the 1970s onwards. Deputy Principal Br Anthony Boyd’s retirement at the close of 2019 marks the end of the Brothers’ presence on the teaching staff but they continue to be a guiding light and inspiration in the College through their 11-strong community, who live across the way in Mary Street. Without the Marist Brothers’ drive and dedication over many decades, St Joseph’s College would not be the school it is today.

Tucked away beneath the Resources Centre, the Archives is where the work of documenting and preserving the College’s rich history takes place. Among its many treasures are copies of every school magazine published since the first edition in 1888, a precious record of everyday College life and the achievements and triumphs of thousands of Joeys boys.

The Archives Museum offers a fascinating insight into many aspects of the College’s past. 

Early photos show boys in wool sorting class; swimming in the school baths in Tarban Creek; and playing cricket in 1883 as construction of the permanent sandstone building takes place in the background. Menus from the 1950s reveal a predominance of meat: on some days, boys ate it at every meal – lamb chops for breakfast, crumbed cutlets for lunch, and pork chops with apple sauce for dinner.

Metal prayer hearts and ornate processional banners are among the spiritual treasures on display. And the achievements and milestones of Old Boys are remembered in items such as the Australian cricket blazer of Test batsman John Moroney (1935) and photos of weddings held in the Chapel.

The College archivists, for a small fee, will help with family history searches. Also, the College is always looking for historical Joeys memorabilia to add to its significant collection, so if you have found Joeys items that you think should be part of the archives, get in touch with us here.