The St Agnes' Parish community recently came together to celebrate 50 years of educational excellence at St Joseph's Regional College.
Over the last five decades the school has grown from humble beginnings as a small junior high school to a state-of-the-art secondary college catering for 1100 students from years 7 to 12.
The school was also crucial in providing the educational base for other St Agnes' Parish schools such as Newman Senior Technical College and MacKillop College to grow and thrive.
Parish priest Father Leo Donnelly and local surveyor Brian Tierney saw the potential in a piece of low-lying swamp land (now Warlters Street) a little west of the Port Macquarie township and through that vision, St Joseph's Hastings Regional School became a reality.
At the time many in the community questioned the viability of secondary school being situated so far away from the town centre.
Built on raised land, thanks to tonnes of sand from the nearby Hastings River, the College opened its doors in January 1969 and welcomed 96 students from Years 7 to 10.
The foundation staff were six Sisters of St Joseph and just one part-time lay teacher.
Over the years, the Sisters were gradually replaced by lay staff. The School, Parish and community owe the Sisters a great debt of gratitude as they did "the hard yards" and laid the foundations for the great Catholic schools that we have today.
Current school principal, Jim Dempsey said over the years many teachers have left lasting impacts on the students who walk the school's halls.
"Many can identify a special teacher, colleague, parent, coach, fellow student or one of our many other tremendous staff members who were pivotal in the nurturing of students' dreams," Mr Dempsey said.
"The tradition of having staff members who truly go above and beyond the call of duty in transforming the lives of young people cannot simply be attributable to good luck or solely a strategic plan.
"It runs much deeper than that, and in many ways it is an intangible and mysterious part of our culture that can't always be fully explained."
St Joseph's Regional High School, as it eventually became known, played a particularly important role in the development of Catholic secondary education in Port Macquarie. It was the foundation campus and birthplace for other colleges.
The first was St Joseph's Vocational College developed in 1979 by principal, Sister Marie Boland and her deputy, Tom Quinn. This innovative senior college evolved into what we know today as Newman Senior Technical College.
The second was MacKillop College, originally as a senior campus in Lochinvar Place. The first cohort of MacKillop College students completed their first year at St Joseph's Regional High School while the College was being built in 1988.
The third school developed from St Joseph's was St Paul's High School in Ocean Drive, now the junior campus of MacKillop College. This commenced in 1995 with a new year 7 cohort and 115 year 8 students who moved over from St Joseph's.
It became obvious by the mid-1980s that the Warlters Street site was not large enough to accommodate a large year 7 to 12 secondary college.
A decision was made to expand the site using transportable buildings. These were used as classrooms as well as a library, wood work, technical drawing, food technology and music.
In 2005, the Warlters Street site was sold so plans could be made to execute a long-term vision to re-locate the school to a new, larger site at Sovereign Hills.
During 2007 and 2008 a brand new state-of-the-art secondary college was built. Students were re-located from the Warlters Street site in February 2009.
In the years following years 11 and 12 were added.
The new St Joseph's Regional College is considered one of the best, most modern facilities in the state and now caters for 1100 students from year 7-12.
The goal of the College is to provide local students with a first class learning environment.
The College attracts students from Port Macquarie and the wider area of the Hastings region. In addition to its Catholic feeder primary schools in Port Macquarie, Wauchope and Laurieton, students from as many as ten primary schools in the area every year express a desire to attend St Joseph's Regional College.
Mr Dempsey said he is proud of the culture of continuous improvement among staff to provide excellent education to students.
"As the future beckons us into a new world with many great, and yet to be discovered opportunities and challenges, we should not take our College's history; its formation; and traditions for granted," he said.
"We should also have the courage to lead collaboratively, question our identity and evaluate our culture, to make sure our vision, mission and traditions are relevant, and in tune with the our ever-changing signs of the times.
"I could not be more proud of my dedicated staff, they are focused on promoting excellence in teaching and learning, in spiritual formation, in the creative and performing arts, in sport and in the pastoral care and overall wellbeing of our students."
He also said the proud tradition the school has built over the last 50 years will continue into the future.
"Without the long held tradition of professionalism, collaboration, and personal investment of its highly aspirational staff, the College would not be the great educational community it is today.
"We are forever thankful to all who have made contributions over the past 50 years to enable St Joseph's Regional College to become the leading educational institution for which it is renowned.
"This is an exciting time in education for our college, and our community, and together we look forward to what is to come."
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