A long history in brief

Today, we stand proud as Australia’s oldest Anglican girls’ school, thanks to the vision of Mrs Jane Barker, wife of the second Bishop of Sydney, who wanted to provide an education for the daughters of clergy that was equal to that given to boys. And in 1856 she did just that. Three girls were enrolled, as boarders, and the school was named St Catherine’s after the patron saint of scholars.

Assisting Jane Barker in her management of the school in its early days was Miss Mary Loftus, the Lady Superintendent whose role was similar to a governess.

Key moments on our journey

  • Occupation at our present site started in 1859, after the completion of the Old Stone House, now our administration offices.

  • Sir William Denison advised on the plans, estimating the cost would be three thousand pounds. Purpose-built as a boarding school, it was substantially expanded during the 19th century as attendance grew.

  • St Catherine’s remained solely as a boarding school until the 1890s. By 1906 we had 48 students attending, now including day students.

  • Enrolment surged, along with the country, post World War II and under our longest serving headmistress, Miss Faith Patterson AM, we grew from 200 to just under 900 girls.

  • Mrs Barker’s legacy was carried so strongly forward we are now a school of 1,050 girls under the headship of Dr Julie Townsend.

Headmistresses to date:

  • 1858 – 1883: Miss Agnes Law.
  • 1884 – 1890: Miss Helen Phillips. Graduate Bedford College, London.
  • 1891 – 1895: Miss Rebecca Darling. LLA.
  • 1895 – 1903: Miss Charlotte Fox.
  • 1903 – 1934: Miss Ellen Lenthall. BA (Hons) MA.
  • 1935 – 1947: Miss Isabel James (Mrs Hall). BSSp, ThL, DipSocStud, MACE.
  • 1948 – 1949: Miss Ella Mitchell. BA (Hons).
  • 1950 – 1954: Miss Una Fitzhardinge. BA, MA, BLitt (Oxon).
  • 1955 – 1987: Miss Faith Patterson AM. BSc, FACE.
  • 1988 – 2000: Mrs Jolyn Karaolis AM. BA (Hons) DipEd, MEd (Hons), MACE, MACEA.
  • 2001 – 2009: Ms Lynne Stone. BA, DipEd, MEd, MACE, MACEA.
  • 2010 – 2022: Dr Julie Townsend. BA (Hons), CertEd, MBA (Ed Leadership), PhD, MACE, MACEL.
  • 2023 – present: Mrs Judith Poole. BA (Hons), MEd.

Our school archives

The school archives contain a wealth of information and memorabilia dating from the foundation of the school in 1856.

They promote the richness of the school’s history through displays of archival material and help students understand the importance of preservation and conservation of material and artefacts.

St Catherine's Museum: a place of many pasts

From art studio to archives

The museum began as an arts studio, a gift from Headmistress Miss Helen Phillips, who served as headmistress from 1884 to 1890. It was originally attached to the main building and later transformed into a Chapel.

It has had many lives: during the 1930s the hut was used as a science laboratory, a kindergarten and infants’ classroom in the 1950s, and later music and arts rooms. In 1992 it was relocated by crane and placed adjacent to the Stone House. It was opened and dedicated by School Chaplain Rev Kimberley Sawyer and Headmistress Mrs Jo Karaolis on 2 March 1994.

The first St Catherine’s School Archivist, Mrs Averil Condren was appointed in 1988. Mrs Evangeline Galettis OAM (OG1969) commenced as School Archivist in 1995.


The archival collection includes a rich array of material and artefacts, collected from official records of the school and from donations.

Some notable items held in our archive collection include:

We welcome your enquiries regarding research of or donation to the St Catherine’s archives.

Archives is open from Monday to Thursday during term time only.

Open Mornings

Our Open Mornings allow you to immerse yourself into life at St Catherine’s.

Hear from our senior staff and take a guided tour of our facilities to get a unique insight.

Open Mornings are offered four times a year and registration is essential.

Open Mornings 2023:

  • Tuesday 29 August
  • Wednesday 22 November

All at St Catherine’s School acknowledge the Bidjigal and Gadigal people, the traditional custodians of the lands on which the school sits,
and we pay our respects to Elders past and present.

We extend this respect to the continuation of the cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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