In August 1911, five Sisters of Mercy travelled by rail to Walcha Road then by horse-drawn coach to the house above the school. The Sisters had many challenges to meet on their arrival in Walcha. Primitive living conditions and very few possessions were amongst the most difficult. The school equipment was inadequate, and the helper teachers were paid when the parish could afford it. But the Walcha community helped the sisters in any way they could. The school was established in what is now St Patrick’s Hall.
Many of the children came to school without shoes, and their lunches consisted of bread and dripping sprinkled with salt. School fees in 1911 were sixpence a week or three pence if that was all you had or in some cases nothing at all.
The task of winning over the children was not easy. They had never seen such strangely dressed women. On the first morning, a frightened little group stood on the embankment between the Church and the school and refused to come down. Then one child dropped a school bag. One of the sisters seized the bag and coaxed the owner to come down and get the bag. The ice was broken.
The first school building consisted of a long hall for the classes first to six, a stage at the western end and a small room off the stage where the babies were taught. These were the six-year-olds who began work on the first day. One fire heated the school, but fires were a luxury as wood was scarce. School archives contain a sheet showing donations of wood from 1951.
From 1930 to 1964 the school had intermediate classes or what we would now call Years 7 to 10.
In 1975 the Sisters of Mercy, after 64 years of providing a Catholic education to the community, made the decision that they could no longer continue teaching in Walcha. A School Board was formed which was the first School Board for the Diocese. The Board Members were Len Fenning, Richard Lonergan, Justin King, Rick McCormack, Sue Fitzgerald, Fr George O’Connor, Fr Flood, Howard Whitelaw and Joy Finlayson. It is interesting to note that Joy Finlayson is currently the Parish representative on the current School Board.
In 1976 Mr Maxwell McGinty was appointed the first lay Principal at St Patrick’s. He had a staff of two and about 85 pupils. By 1981 the numbers had increased to 130.
The first stage of the Mercy Block was built in 1977 and the second stage in 1981. Voluntary labour built the Mercy Block under the leadership of Mr Len Fenning. In 1979 the John McKeon Memorial Library was opened – it was the old admin building that was demolished to make way for our new library.
The school oval was levelled in 1977 for sporting activities. The school crest and motto “Growing in Wisdom and Faith” were selected from the entries received by the School Board in September 1980.
Over the years the student numbers have been up and down. In the 1990’s they were down below 30, but they have never been back up near the high point of 130 in 1981.
In 2006 the old toilet block was demolished to make way for a new canteen and Covered Outdoor Learning Area (COLA). This was provided with the financial assistance of Mr Justin King, and again the parent body stepped forward to offer many hours of voluntary labour.
In 2011, funding provided under the Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution saw the construction of a new Library and Administration building. Staff gained access to the building a week before the centenary celebrations. The new building officially opened in March 2012.