Church School was opened on 28 April 1918. A fair conducted by the Sacred
Heart parish in September 1914 had enabled the purchase of the land. The
land cost £1439 and the building cost £1740. Archbishop Mannix opened and
blessed the new church school in the presence of 3000 people. The school
had 150 pupils when it opened in June 1918. The original teachers were
sisters of the Presentation Order. Mother Anthony was the first principal
and Sisters Angela and Bernadette the first teachers.
Mass was held on 5 May 1918 by Father J. Byrne. The priests from Sacred
Heart attended until it became a separate parish in 1919 and its first
parish priest, the Reverend Jerome McCarthy, was appointed. The school
colours were blue and gold and they featured in the interior decoration.
The wooden altar was painted in blue and gold. The sanctuary was a raised
proscenium and curtained off during school times. The school desks also
served as pews; it was the job of the senior boys each Friday afternoon to
arrange them appropriately for services.
Ignatius became principal in 1926. Pupils were taught physical education
by a Mr Donald on Friday afternoons and Maggie Mossop taught singing.
During the Depression the sisters taught pupils to Grade 9 level because
many children could not afford to go on to secondary school. (Most pupils
completed Grade 8, thereby gaining the Merit certificate, and left
school.) The school held concerts, a choir, and annual picnics to South
Michael McKenna became the parish priest on 6 January 1922. He had served
with the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Forces sent overseas
in 1914. He began work raising funds to build a church next to the school.
The foundation stone was laid on 12 May 1929. The architect was A. A.
Fritsch and the builders were the Reynolds Brothers. It was completed on 8
December 1929. Archbishop Cattaneo attended with Archbishop Mannix. The
red brick Romanesque church designed to accommodate 700 people had cost
£12,516 and gifts valued at £3553 had been donated, including
stained-glass windows, the pulpit and altars. The tower can be seen from
many parts of Elwood and St Columba’s is considered one of the best of the
Roman Catholic churches of a similar scale built around this period. The
design of the belfry and metal-capped cupola is unusual. Inside, the
barrel-vaulted ceiling is the main feature, while the stained glass and
the choir gallery balustrade are also noteworthy.
It was a culmination of a dream for Father McKenna, who had laid the first
brick of the church and laid the last brick on the tower to complete the
building. His sudden death following a seizure on 17 October 1936 was a
great loss to the people of St Columba’s.
was Dr Francis Greenan, who continued the work undertaken by Father
McKenna by buying adjoining land and expanding facilities for the school.
A hall with three classrooms and a teachers’ room was completed in 1937.
The story is told that on hot days Father Greenan would march the children
to the beach. ‘The fact that mothers were aghast at their little ones
being on the beach in the middle of a heat wave never crossed his mind’.
The hall was taken over by the Army during World War II and was also used
as a post office for a time. The children were taught in the tennis
pavilion, which was later demolished and a replacement built. The children
regained the use of their school in 1943.
war, the school remained small with composite grades from Prep to Grade 8
taught by five teachers. In line with government policies this was reduced
to teaching to Grade 6 by 1966. Sister Ignatius returned as principal in
1950 and remained until 1970, having given a total of thirty-one years of
service to the school and its pupils. To mark the golden jubilee of the
school another two rooms were added. In 1974 the long association of the
Sisters of the Presentation Order with the school ended. Dawn Keogh became
the first lay principal, followed by Loris Stone, who oversaw extensions
to the school, including a library, which were opened in 1983. Colette
Hickey was principal from 1988-97. The present principal is Christine
White. The school is a small but flourishing community with an enrolment
of ninety-two pupils.
was in the first enrolment of pupils at the school. In 1970 his
reminiscences were included in a history of the church by Francis Renton
Power. Reflecting on the traditional enmity between Catholics and
Protestants, Ploog recalled how there would be ‘battles’ against the local
state school pupils. ‘After a veritable flood of verbal abuse, battle was
joined and continued on the banks of the Elwood “canal” (and sometimes in
it).’ When some ‘yahoos’ threw a stone through a window of the Anglican St
Bede’s, Ploog was in the delegation charged with apologising to members of
St Bede’s congregation. In contrast, in 1970 the two congregations were
attending each other’s services.
parish priest was Father Michael Tuomey, who arrived in 1953. The church
was consecrated on 12 October 1961 in a ceremony lasting more than four
hours. Archbishop Simonds circled the church three times as a Litany of
the Saints was chanted by a choir of priests. The ceremony then continued
inside the church and included placing a relic of St Clement under the
Father Tuomey began a monthly magazine The Columbian and was
responsible for the establishment of the Parish Council and the
introduction of lay lectors to the parish. He retired due to ill-health in
fifth parish priest was Father Conrad Reis. A former boarder at St
Columba’s, during World War II he served in New Guinea as chaplain
attached to the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. His particular charges
were members of 29/46 Infantry Battalion, the 37/52 Infantry Battalion and
the 4th Field Ambulance. Each year, even after he retired due to poor
health in 1977, Father Reis celebrated a Mass at St Columba’s for the
returned soldiers to whom he had ministered during the war. A plaque in
the foyer commemorates the men from these units who died in action in New
Guinea. During Father Reis’s time, St Columba’s Church was altered
according to the provisions of Vatican II. Intended to make services more
accessible to people, the Mass was celebrated in English, not Latin, and
the celebrant now faced the people. The marble altar rails were removed,
as was the top of the high altar, including the large marble angels and
the rotunda. The sanctuary was extended and a simple wooden altar
Father Des Jenkins arrived in the parish in 1978 and served until 1996.
During his time in the parish, the presbytery and the church were
refurbished and extensions to the school were undertaken. His successor
was Reverend Father John Salvano. He reactivated some of the regular
social activities that had been enjoyed by parishioners in the past but
which had gradually lapsed due to changing demographics in the parish.
He was appointed to the parish of St John’s Clifton Hill in mid 2000.
Reverend Father Terry, the parish priest of Sacred Heart, West St Kilda,
was then also appointed parish priest at St Columba’s and is the current
In 1919 a
house was bought for the priest’s residence and it was sold at a profit of
£200. The new presbytery was opened on 24 April 1921. Mr W. M. Kelly, a
builder from Gardenvale, built the building to his and Father McCarthy’s
design, thereby saving an architect’s fee.
In 1937 a
parish hall was built with W. P. Conolly the architect and J. H. Johnson
the contractor. Tennis courts were also built at this time. It was part of
Father Greenan’s vision of providing a centre for the children of St
Columba’s during their leisure time where activities could be provided in
a Catholic environment. Physical education, indoor sports and dancing
classes have been held in the hall and there were various sporting teams
associated with the church.
the years, dances, card parties and concerts were other popular activities
held in the hall.
 All the
information about the school comes from: Emer Di Muzo and Peg
Whitehill (researchers), The Birth of St Columba’s, n.d.