Celebrating 125 years of Santa Sabina across four generations

This article first appeared online in the Inner West Courier, Daily Telegraph on 10 April 2019. Photo: John Appleyard

Standing in the middle of the Santa Sabina College courtyard, next to the statue of Saint Dominic, and turning clockwise, the school’s 125 year history is clearly visible.

From a grand brick building, constructed in 1894 when the school was founded by seven Dominican Sisters and attended by seven day students, to a lecture theatre and library built in the the early 2000s, with decades in between.

But Santa Sabina’s history is also visible through the families who now extend more than four generations.

Dozens of Weavers, Middletons and Mathesons have walked through the gates.

In one family line, top-down from matriarch Helen Weaver, class of 1950, is her daughter-in-law Kerry Weaver, class of 1977, her granddaughter Rachael Middleton, class of 2001, and her great-granddaughter Emmaline Middleton, class of 2024. 

Elizabeth Matheson (daughter of Helen Weaver), class of 1993 and Elizabeth’s daughter Annabelle Matheson, class of 2019 also carry the school torch. And it expands outwards from there.

A lot of things have changed about Santa Sabina and Strathfield over four generations, but they all agree that the ethos of the school has stayed the same, along with their passion for field hockey.

Kerry Weaver, one of five sisters to attend the school, said: “The school is bigger but the core values are still the same.”

“The Dominican ethos was very forward thinking and gives you a really rounded education. It wasn’t just about learning stuff out of a book, it was learning about life in general.”

When Mrs Weaver finished school in 1977, she said many of the girls’ schools were encouraging their students to be either teachers or nurses. 

“(But) the school made it clear that it wasn’t your only choice. It encouraged girls to look further afield and follow their dreams … So a lot of students were very much ahead of their time.”

Of growing up in Strathfield, she said: “It was much smaller, there were no high rises, and everybody knew everybody,” she said.

“I’m one of nine. So there was always somebody, in the year above or below that I knew. Even now, you meet people and you know that their brother went to school with your brother or something like that.”

Mrs Weaver is still best friends with one of her school mates. They were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings and godparents to each other’s children.

Mrs Weaver reminisces about taking her daughter Rachael to school on the first day of Year 7.

“I remember the first time we came up the stairs … and feeling like I was back in year 11 going up the stairs for a prefect meeting.”

She now makes sure to attend every Grandparents Day at the school.

Her daughter Rachael Middleton, who lives in Concord, will put her four daughters and her son through Santa Sabina College.

“The school helps everyone work out who they are and what they want to be,” she said.

Mrs Middleton fondly remembers the school’s outdoor education program helping her come out of her shell.

Her cousin, year 12 student Annabelle Matheson, said: “Before I attended, I always heard stories from mum, aunties and grandma, about just how fun the school was. I’m hoping that all my friendships here are continued.”

Like her older female relatives, she pinpointed the social justice program as a massive drawcard.

“They tell us we are the future ambassadors for the world so it lifts up our confidence, because it shows us that we can make a change in the world if we want to … We get to see how the world is different to us and we get to see how other people live and it kind of makes you want to change.”

Santa Sabina College marked their 125th anniversary with a mass, with further celebrations planned throughout the year. College Principal Dr Maree Herrett said: “this year we particularly celebrate and give thanks for the sacrifices and achievements of our founding Sisters of the Dominican Order and for all the staff and students who have passed through the gates at 90 The Boulevarde.”

Joanna Panagopoulos
Inner West Courier Inner City