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Celebrating a hundred years of Villa Maria College

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hile many of us are not all that keen to boast about getting older, when it comes to turning 100, that is something worthy of a big celebration, which is just what Villa Maria College has in mind for its upcoming Centennial in 2018. Villa Maria College will have graced its home on Peer Street for a century in February next year. Today regarded as Christchurch’s iconic Catholic girls’ college, it has an interesting and dynamic past. The original block of land was owned by a wealthy Christchurch family, the Wakefields, who named the property Peerswick after a race horse named The Peer. When the Wakefields’ riches turned to rags, the property was sold off. The next family to take over the property built a two-storey house on the land, which they named “St Barbe”, only to suffer a similar financial fate and the home and land had to be sold. After another short period of private ownership, the building and land was eventually purchased by the Sisters of Mercy, who wanted to educate young women, often forgotten by educational institutions in those days. The Sisters named the property Villa Maria meaning House of Mary and developed a boarding and day school for the girls of Canterbury. It’s hard to believe that in its infancy, Villa Maria was considered out in the country – some miles from the rest of Christchurch, and many pupils boarded and enjoyed the quiet country life. With just 14 pupils enrolled on its first day, the college has come a long way to the 800-plus pupils who walk the very same grounds today. There are touches of the original property all around the school – including the glorious Grotto that the Sisters and boarders gathered at

for many years. The Sisters of Mercy remain an integral part of the college, with many Sisters residing on the grounds that the convent once occupied all those years earlier. Villa was staffed for many years by the nuns, and had a Sister Principal up until 1992, when the first “lay” Principal was appointed. One can only imagine what the early Sisters would think of today’s advances in education and technology, but the college’s Mercy heart still beats strong, and is the core of the college’s special character. Registrations are now open for the Villa Maria College Centennial weekend, to take place on February 16-18, 2018. The events planned include a family carnival day, a sophisticated ball and a special Centennial Mass. The college’s history will be told, with the launch of a comprehensive history book entitled Mercy Women, the Villa Maria Story, written by historian and author Sean Brosnahan. There will also be a photographic exhibition for all to view. The Sisters of Mercy are very much involved in the planning of the Centennial, many of whom live right next door to the college.

Centennial programme

The Centennial celebrations will take place over three days at the xollege. The programme is as follows: Friday, February 16 - Grand Opening Showcase & Reception: a celebration that encompasses music and drama, and the official opening of the Centennial weekend. This will be followed by a catered supper in the courtyard. Saturday, February 17 - Villa’s Great Day Out: a family-friendly, carnival-style day, including the photographic exhibition featuring images and stories from the past

Senior Class 1928

100 years, entertainment, games, Devonshire Tea, class photos, a boarders’ function for girls who boarded at Villa, a past and present staff function, college tours, food trucks and a craft market. Saturday, February 17 – Blue Tie Ball. The supreme event of the Centennial weekend, the ball will be held in a beautiful marquee on the college grounds, and will include a threecourse meal and beverages, entertainment and dancing till late. Sunday, February 18 – The Special Mass and Morning Tea. To be held in the marquee, this will be one of the biggest masses the college has seen, honouring all that the past 100 years have encompassed, and all that the next 100 will hold. For full centennial details and to register to attend, go to the website www.villamaria100. co.nz or contact the college for a paper registration form.

A mannequin parade in the college grounds

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Fendalton Ilam Gazette 05-12-17