Three years after the Diocese of Sale was established in 1877, the first Bishop of Sale, Most Reverend J.F.Corbett DD, invited Sisters of the Religious Congregation of Our Lady of Sion to come from France and establish their first Australian foundation in Sale. These sisters were the first of any Religious Order to undertake educational work in Gippsland.
History tells of a Miss M Sweeney teaching a Catholic school in the Church Hall, under the patronage of Father McGirr, this was in the 1860’s. In 1867 a Mr Pat Counihan became the Headmaster of the Catholic School “The Advocate” of 1876 writes of 76 pupils at Sale Catholic Primary. In 1881 Father Hegarty (later Dean) had a wooden school built to take 200 pupils.
In 1890 the Notre Dame de Sion Sisters took over the Primary School from Mr O’Kelly and his three assistants. Until 1919, the Sion Sisters continued to teach in the weatherboard school that was built on the same site as the present school. When development in other parishes demanded the services of the Sisters of Sion, the direction of Saint Mary’s School came under the control of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The roll call was then 131. The Josephites were to conduct Saint Mary’s for 37 years.
With the opening of Saint Patrick’s College in 1922 the boys transferred there after completing 4th grade.
In 1927 a three roomed red brick school was erected on the present site but further expansions caused the addition of a second story in 1952. At this time 153 children were enrolled. By 1954 the school had almost doubled in size bringing the total number of students to 244.
For 2 years, 1956 and 1957, Saint Mary’s had the privilege to have the Brigidine Sisters as teachers. In 1959 the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion resumed the direction of the school after an absence of 31 years. In recent years there have been mainly lay teachers making up the staff of Saint Mary’s.
In 1990 Saint Mary’s farewelled our full-time teacher Sister of Sion, Sister Angela Bayliss, who moved to Box Hill ending a tradition of a hundred years of loving and devoted service by the Religious Orders. In 1991 the link was severed even further when it was announced that Sister Bernadette Lynch, our part-time Religious Education Coordinator and devoted teacher of Catechists in the community would be moving back to Melbourne. The presence of these Sisters is sadly missed but their spirit continues to remain with us.
Saint Mary’s has been the best possible “Alma Mater” for thousands of pupils, past and present. Catholic primary education at Saint Mary’s has been carried out in an atmosphere of care and love, while nuturing faith and spirituality. May it continue to do so now and in the future.