The oldest school in Benoni
St. Columba’s (formerly known as The Convent of the Holy Child) came about due to the foresight and courage of it’s foundress, Mother Rose Niland.
On June 23, 1909, four Dominican Sisters arrived from St. Dominic’s Convent, Newcastle, to take possession of a primitive building on a neglected stand in the vicinity of Howard Avenue. They came at the bidding of the very Rev. Mother M. Rose Niland, Provincial of the comparatively recently established branch of the Dominican Order at Newcastle, Natal.
The Benoni Convent, which she placed under the patronage of the Holy Child Jesus, was the fifth foundation from Newcastle and the third on the Reef. At the time, Benoni was the extremity of the East Rand, but Mother Rose even then foresaw that Benoni would become a centre of culture, kindness and cordiality.
Two months after the four sisters arrived in Benoni they opened the convent school in a discarded military hut to twenty-five pupils, some of them were boarders. From its’ inception the Convent was completely unsubsidized. The usual struggle for existence attended its early years and Mother Rose donated the primitive requirements of furniture, library books and school prizes.
The strictest economy had to be practiced and for close on three decades the Sisters added to the educational labours and domestic work of the house. Only one servant was employed, and he took care of the garden, tennis courts and playgrounds.
With an annual increase of pupils and teachers, expansion of the school became imperative and in 1915, the foundation stone of the present St. Columba’s was laid by the Rt. Reverend Bishop Cox, O.M.I., Catholic Bishop of the Transvaal. The opening ceremony took place the following year and the first Holy Mass was offered in the new sanctuary by the late Fr. Tom Ryan O.M.I. Four years later a two-storey building of five classrooms, six music rooms and a fully-equipped science laboratory were added to the existing blocks. With the erection the first makeshift premises were vacated and demolished.
A protecting fence was built around the estate to ensure the privacy of the school and convent. This was replaced in 1947 by a more solid structure.
The spirit of loyalty and love for their school, inculcated from the earliest days, has developed into a tradition which is jealously guarded and handed down to each generation of pupils. During the early days boys were kept at the Convent up to the fifth or sixth standard. Later this changed and boys stayed until Grade four. The school grew to an enrolment of over 600 pupils, many going up to matric level. In the early 60’s the high school was closed and the boarding facilities fell away. The school now functions as a Pre-Primary and Primary school for both sexes from Gr 000 to Gr. 7.