Catholic education in Burleigh Heads has a rich and proud tradition stretching back to the late 19th century when in 1878, Fr. Benedetto Scortechini and residents of Tallebudgera built All Saints Church, later renamed St Malachy’s, on land donated by William Dolan. At that time, the district was a base for cedar cutters and early farming families.
Fr. Benedetto Scortechini was born in the Papal States in 1845 and was one of the Italian priests who came to Queensland at the invitation of Bishop of James Quinn following the close of the First Vatican Council. After working in Stanthorpe, Roma and Gympie, he was appointed to the Logan Mission which covered much of South East Queensland. Along with his pastoral work, Fr. Scortechini also had an interest in the study of botany and he is still held in regard today within the field with his research and specimens still kept in the Queensland and New South Wales Herbariums and also in the Royal Gardens in Kew, London. He died in 1886 in Calcutta after studying plant life in South East Asia for the Straits Settlements (Malaysian) Government.
Catholic children in those days were taught their prayers at home and preparation for the sacraments meant trips to Sunday classes conducted by the Sisters of Mercy after mass at Southport and after 1926, at Coolangatta. Some children boarded at the convents when a more intensive preparation of one week could be completed.
As the Burleigh Heads population increased and tourist numbers grew in the early part of the 20th Century, the Archbishop decided to open a church in Burleigh Heads to cater for the local catholics and also the large number of Christmas and Easter holiday makers. After years of Father W.D Goggan of Coolangatta Parish searching for a suitable place to build a church, he bought a piece of land which was located on the corner of Connor Street and Park Avenue, Burleigh Heads. The foundations were laid for the Burleigh church and parishioners from nearby farms sold their produce in James Street to help fund raise. In 1935, the Infant Saviour Church was built and was opened and blessed by Archbishop James Duhig.
The building had a Spanish Mission facade and was built with timber that was felled and milled in the district. The cost of the church came to approximately 3000 pounds. It was specially designed with a wooden dance floor as the priests were planning to use it as a hall and build a bigger church behind the smaller church however the harsh financial circumstances of the great depression which was quickly followed by the Second World War resulted in high building and labour prices and they never got around to building the larger church so the original was left. The verandahs of the church were used for Infant Saviour School and formal education began on the 6th February, 1935 conducted by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart with an enrolment of 14 students. Because there was no Priest’s house at Burleigh Heads until 1960, Fr. Carlton stayed overnight at the Cramer’s house across the road from the church or at the Burleigh Heads Hotel, run by the Snee family. Hospitality for Priests was a time honoured Australian tradition.
In 1939 the Second World War broke out and trenches were built in front of the Church. Regular air raid drills were held to practice in case of an unexpected bomb. The children had to take sugar bags into the trench to prevent their clothes from being dirtied.
The school closed during the war and was to remain closed until 1953 when it reopened again on the verandahs of the church when two Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception came to Burleigh Heads to teach the children of the parish. The Sisters lived in Coolangatta and travelled to Burleigh Heads by bus each day, and when their teaching staff increased, they drove a VW, mostly on dirt roads. There was still no building available so they again taught on the verandahs of the church. The first principal was Sister M Raymond and there were 42 pupils enrolled. The numbers increased, and in 1954 the Infant Saviour Primary School was built on the hill behind the Church. In 1956 Burleigh Heads was officially declared a parish in its own right with Father Brian Graham appointed as the first Parish Priest.
In September 1959, Frank Shine was appointed Parish Priest of Burleigh Heads after the death of Fr. Graham. At that time Star of the Sea (1901) and Aquinas College (1963) were the only two Catholic Secondary Schools on the Gold Coast. Both schools were unable to accommodate all applicants and both were located at Southport. Father Shine saw the need to provide a Catholic education at the southern end of the Gold Coast for secondary schooling, an area with a large population growth. Recognising this, Frank Shine and a group of local Catholic business people purchased the 110 acre site on which both the Primary School and College were established along with a 30 acre site where Burleigh West Shopping Centre now stands. People questioned his decision as the site in those days was out of town and surrounded by bush.
The Catholic Education Commission then had to be convinced of the need for a girls' secondary college at West Burleigh and after some difficult negotiations, permission was granted for the building of a regional school by the parishioners of Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta. Then came the frustrating process of finding a religious order to provide staff because catholic school administration by lay teachers was still well into the future. With the Franciscan Sisters already involved in education in the parish, Sr Clara, the Provincial of the Franciscan Congregation, offered one sister to establish Marymount College.
In 1971, the enrolments at Infant Saviour Primary School had increased to 264 and were continuing to rise. There was little land to be used as a playground and while the girls played behind the school, the boys had to use the Church ground. The decision was made to relocate the Primary School to the Marymount College site.
In 1973 the Infant Saviour Primary school began the move to the same site as the Secondary College. From second term, 1973 grades five, six and seven occupied the four classrooms of the first wing of the new school, Marymount Primary. In February, 1974 the year four classes moved to Marymount Primary. Finally on 20th May, 1974, grades one, two and three moved to the new school. This was an historical moment for Marymount as all year levels from one to twelve were on the same site. The school was officially blessed and opened by Archbishop Rush on 1974.
From these humble beginnings, Marymount Primary has grown to become the largest Catholic Primary School in Queensland. The growth and success which the Marymount Community enjoys today is testament to the faith, generosity, hard work and vision of the priests, Franciscan and Sacred Heart Sisters, parishioners, parents, staff and students of this great school.
Fr. Martin Doyle became Parish Priest in 1977 and continued the vision of Fr. Shine and the Franciscan Sisters and the Marymount site was further enhanced with the construction of more classrooms and the Doyle Centre, a multi purpose hall. Fr. Pat Molony became Parish Priest in 1994 and in 1996, St Benedict’s Church was opened in Mudgeeraba. The Infant Saviour Church in Burleigh was to remain on site for 64 years until its closure and removal to Tamborine Mountain in 1999. In December 2003 the new Infant Saviour Church was blessed by His Grace Archbishop John Bathersby, an event very few parishes are celebrate these days. There are plans for a Church to be built at the Marymount complex in the near future to cater for the Burleigh Waters Catholic community, an exciting prospect for staff, students and parents of Marymount Primary.