Our History

History Of Our School

Sacred Heart has a long history.  The first school near our site, St Mary’s School, was founded in 1850 and blessed by Bishop Viard on the 8th of September that year, just 10 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. It was one of the earliest schools in Wellington. When Bishop Viard arrived in Wellington he was very keen on education. He brought with him four Sisters of Mary who were members of the teaching team and two school teachers called Mr Yvert and Robert H Huntley.

In 1851 both the St Mary’s Boys School and St Joseph’s Providence Boarding School were opened. The Providence was for the daughters of Maori families who wanted a Catholic education. This stood on the tennis courts North of Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart was opened in 1852 and was a parish school originally called St Mary’s Day School.

There are now 4 schools on the property that were used by any children that wanted to come, not just Catholics.

The original female teachers that came were aged between 14-21 but three left to return home as they became ill, got homesick and were living in poverty. Bishop Viard wrote to Bishop Pompallier in Auckland for help or the mission would collapse. The Sisters of Mercy in Auckland gave two Sisters to help the mission. Mother Bernard Dickson and Sister Augustine Maxwell arrived on June 14 1861. Their vision was a school that provided a Catholic education for girls, so that they could learn about Jesus.

By 1870 there were four schools on the property. The “Parish School” which was still called St Mary’s was on the land that now hosts Sacred Heart Cathedral School.

In 1898, the St. Mary’s Cathedral was burnt down. When it was rebuilt in 1900 the name was changed to Sacred Heart Basilica. This meant that the school’s name also had to be altered to Sacred Heart School. By this time the boys’ school had moved to Boulcott St. There was Sacred Heart Parish School, St Joseph’s Providence and what was later to be called St Mary’s College – a day and boarding school.

By 1900 Sacred Heart School had 137 students.

The school was -and still is- a co-educational institute, but at one stage the boys would leave for a school in Karori when they reached Year 4, while the girls would stay the whole 8 years. The first Principal / Head teacher of the newly named Sacred Heart School was Sister Mary Joseph Maxwell.

When the highway was built through Thorndon over a thousand homes in the area were moved. The parish lost 600 families. That is one of the reasons the students come from such a wide area now. At that time the boys school joined the parish school.

In 1976, the Sisters realised that the school was not big enough for everyone. They decided to raise the ceiling closer to the roof and add another floor. To do that they took the roof off the school and added three more classrooms to make use of the upper space. They also needed an assembly hall, so the ground where Room 1 and After School Care currently stand was excavated and the hall was built. During these renovations, the children were sent to other schools. Some were in St Francis Hall, where the British Commission is now, some were in the old hospital, and some in Viard House!

Funds were low, as during that time it was unusual for the Government to offer financial help to Catholic schools. This meant that the only way to get money was through fundraising. They held galas and raffles.  Sister Mary Lawrence Lynch even painted portraits to sell.  She helped to raise money for the St. Mary’s gym. The Sisters also provided food for the poor children in the school, as feeding the hungry is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

The last Sister to teach at Sacred Heart was Sr. Frances Feehan in 1986.

In 2014 the school added two new classrooms and the library were added to the school.

In 2019, a new playground was added to the school with artificial turf.

The uniform for girls has always been green, but the boys had navy trousers. It was the same uniform year-round. Discipline was much the same as it is now, with detention if you misbehaved. ‘Torture tools’ such as the cane, ruler and belt were strictly forbidden, as the school was a no abuse environment.

Sacred Heart Cathedral School has a maximum of 240 students.


Bishop Viard had Nuns and lay teachers with him when he arrived in 1850. Bishop Viard started by running St Mary’s with the Sisters of Mary. Eventually the Mercy Sisters arrived to work at the school and have been linked to the School since then. The Mercy Sisters taught at Sacred Heart for many years but eventually more lay teachers began to teach at the school. The Mercy Sisters are always linked into our R.E. studies and we have close ties as they live opposite our school.

Written by:

Sabine, Angelica, Oliver, Lily, Emily and Otis

Special thanks to Sr. de Porres, Fr James Lyons and Mr Turley for all their help.