PALMERSTON NORTH — About 150 ex-pupils, teachers, families and friends have celebrated the 70th anniversary of St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children, a school that closed down 25 years ago.

A partial view of St Dominic’s Centre, formerly St Dominic’s School for the Deaf.
A partial view of St Dominic’s Centre, formerly St Dominic’s School for the Deaf.

The celebrations began on May 31 with 10am Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

Palmerston North deaf chaplain David Loving-Molloy said that deaf communities by nature tend to be closeknit cultural groups, and Catholic deaf communities are no different.

“This closeness is usually due to the shared experience of growing up deaf and being educated at a deaf school,” he said.

“It is continued [during] post school years in local deaf clubs (or societies) that can be found in most main centres around the country. Long after leaving deaf schools, deaf friends usually remain close from friendships started at school, for the rest of their lives.”

Fourteen Catholic deaf chaplains, pastoral workers, and interpreters also took the opportunity for a national gathering to look at where Catholic deaf ministry is in New Zealand at the moment.

Eight of the 14 are deaf. There were four representatives from Auckland; five from Palmerston North; four from Wellington; and one from Dunedin. A Christchurch representative who was at the celebrations couldn’t make it but had a report tabled. Hamilton diocese was the only one not represented.

“It was the first time such a gathering has occurred in a long time,” Mr Loving-Molloy said. “It was a very successful meeting and a report on it will be sent to the New Zealand bishops.”

The anniversary was made special with the attendance of seven pupils from the 1940s group.

Among them were Carol Gibbons and Janette Smith, both from the first-year intake of 1944.

“It was a great jubilee. Deaf people were fully involved in the jubilee Mass, signing the readings, preaching, prayers of the faithful, eucharistic prayer, providing songs with no musical accompaniment, taking up the offertory, and doing a flag display at Communion time,” he said.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Brian Walsh, who has been involved with the Catholic deaf community over many years, assisted by the Bishop of Palmerston North, Bishop Charles Drennan.

Historic film footage of St Dominic’s Island Bay from the New Zealand Film Archive from 1949 was shown at the diocesan centre. The group later visited St Dominic’s, Feilding.

“The old deaf school is now called St Dominic’s Centre, and is a residential care facility for mental health consumers housing both women and men. Our large group of visitors was warmly welcomed by three of the St Dominic’s Centre staff , including the manager,” said
Mr Loving-Molloy. “The ex-pupils very much appreciated being able to revisit areas that held many memories for them.”

Only three deaf schools were established in this country. The first deaf school was Sumner School for the Deaf, which was established in Christchurch in 1880, followed by Titirangi School for the Deaf in Auckland, and finally St Dominic’s in 1944.

St Dominic’s was the smallest, because of its Catholic focus and its geographical location. For the first eight years it was in Wellington, but the Island Bay property became too small as numbers grew. The school was relocated to Feilding in 1953.

Mr Loving-Molloy said the first hurdle to keeping St Dominic’s open was the application for school to be integrated into the state education system in the early 1980s.

That was successfully achieved in 1983 and eased the financial burdens of the school.

“However, the more difficult challenge lay in the falling numbers which, along with
other factors, eventually led to the closure of the school at the end of 1989,” said Mr Loving-Molloy.