1851 - The Sisters of Notre Dame

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur responded to the call of Father Nugent in 1851 to work in the city of Liverpool. Everton Valley was the third Convent of Notre Dame founded in the city, and owes its existence to the great extension of the Catholic Church in the Liverpool of the mid-nineteenth century. The port had risen swiftly to an importance second only to that of London, and work was to be had in plenty.

Much of the labour was provided by Irish immigrants, who came to Liverpool to escape the potato famine, though desperately poor and forced to live in squalid conditions, nevertheless clung proudly to their Catholic faith. Almost 25% of Liverpool’s population were from Ireland at this time. The clergy worked hard to provide some elementary schooling for the children, in order to support their congregations who were obliged to pay for everything – accommodation, heating, lighting and schooling.

1869 - School Beginnings

At the beginning of 1869 the Reverend Mother-General Mere Constantine – Marie-Jeanne Josephe Collin (1843-1875) determined on opening a third House in Liverpool, in order to relieve Mount Pleasant of some of its distant Poor Schools and to meet additional applications from the clergy at the North end of the city to support their people. Liverpool continued to expand and St Anthony’s Church on Scotland Road no longer marked the extreme limit of the Catholic population.

More and more parish priests asked for Sisters help, difficulties of transport increased, and the problem demanded a solution. Sister Marie Theresia, Sister Superior of Mount Pleasant was authorised to look out for a suitable house, she was assisted by Mr Lomax, an excellent Catholic gentleman, who had four daughters in the SND order. He found a suitable property on a spot in Everton, where there was a substantial stone house and a large piece of land. The property in Everton Valley was acquired.

1870 - The Education Act

The Education Act of 1870, which offered a little financial help towards Catholic schools, developed the Sisters’ work considerably. Consequently the years 1870 to 1888 show them beginning duties at: St. Augustine’s School from 1871 Our Lady Immaculate and St. Alexander’s School from 1872 St. Sylvester’s School from 1873 St. Michael’s school from 1875 All Souls’ school from 1876 St. John’s School from 1878 St. Alphonsus’ School from 1888 St Gerard’s school was not taken over until 1914.

1874 - Community Chapel

In 1874, because of the growing numbers to be housed, a new wing was added to the east side of the convent, in which a large room, on the uppermost floor, became the Community Chapel. After three years, however, the ascent (seventy-three steps from ground level) proved too tiring and the position inconvenient, so a room on the lower floor was chosen and the upper room was furnished to accommodate Domestic Science.

1888 - The West Wing

In 1888 the west wing was completed, containing rooms for Sisters and Pupil-Teachers and the Chapel (more recently known as Notre Dame Hall) which was opened with Pontifical High Mass by His Lordship Bishop O’Reilly. In the early years of the twentieth century the three houses, known as St Joseph’s House, were acquired, and later the Chadwick Mount property (listed as 2-8 Chadwick Mount in 1873) was added to the Convent premises. In 1902 the new laundry equipped with the latest machinery “worked by electricity” was completed, the old site of the laundry was used as a temporary Science Room (one of the first schools in the country to offer science lessons to girls) and by 1904 a Needlework Room and classrooms were added, and the building of the new Collegiate School was begun.

1906 - Everton Valley

In June 1906 the new building was opened by His Lordship Bishop Whiteside, accompanied by Bishop Alien of Shrewsbury, in the presence of nearly five hundred guests. In later years further additions were necessary to meet modern demands, a Sixth Form block, the Science accommodation extended, extra games space provided by the purchase and demolition of Thorndale Street nearby, a new gymnasium built, and a modern entrance leading on to Everton Valley were added The Collegiate School, which was recognised as an ‘Efficient Secondary School’ by the Board of Education in 1903 continued to progress: soon the long record of successes in external examinations began, Advanced Courses were established, and girls proceeded to University. A full inspection of Notre Dame Collegiate School was undertaken in 1905.

1939 - War Time

At the outbreak of war in 1939, many Liverpool children were dispersed to safer areas, the Sisters went with their schools and were billeted wherever room could be found, mainly around the county of Shropshire. In May 1941, however, when most of the evacuees had returned, the convent was severely damaged during one of the enemy bombing raids on Liverpool Docks. There was direct hit on the kitchen area and the chaplain’s quarters above it. In the kitchen preparations had been made for the following day, the daily ration of potatoes had been put in the ovens in readiness, all the food was destroyed when the oven doors blew off in the explosion.

Edie Adams (an in-between maid working in the convent) has vivid memories of the Sister in charge of the kitchen being distraught at the loss of their precious rations and the local Warden trying to comfort her by offering her his hip flask. Countless incendiary bombs fell on both the convent and school in these early years of the war, thankfully no Sisters were hurt. The Sisters had to be rehoused in Birkdale, Wigan, St Helens and the Manchester country house and a total of thirty-two Sisters travelled by trolleybus into Liverpool each day to continue teaching wherever possible.

1945 - Post War

The end of the war brought other changes. The destruction of many schools by enemy action and the consequent reorganisation had considerably reduced the number of Sisters teaching in the City schools, where countless thousands of children (including three small boys who were to become – Bishop Hynn, Archbishop Downey and Cardinal Godfrey) passed through their hands.

In 1945 schools had to reapply to be in receipt of grants as a result of the New Education Act in 1944 (for the first time there was a plan for a co-ordinated system of national education, in three distinct stages: primary, secondary and higher). Notre Dame Collegiate School governors received a letter on 30th November 1945 in response to their reapplication confirming ‘ that the school shall continue to be recognised as a Direct grant Grammar School’. There was, also, legislation requiring religious instruction to be given in schools and for each day to begin with a collective act of worship.

As a direct-grammar school central government funds were received in return for making a quarter of the places available to the local education authority. Notre Dame Collegiate School developed in size and stature.

1970s - All Girls Comprehensive

In 1978 the Sisters moved from Everton Valley to make way for the extended building refurbishment needed when it opened as an all-girl Comprehensive School in September 1983. In the 1970s it was apparent that a re-organisation of Catholic Secondary Education in the Archdiocese of Liverpool was required.

The Sisters moved out of the convent at Everton Valley to make way for the refurbishment to the site in readiness for the re-organisation. In 1983 three schools, Notre Dame Collegiate School, St John’s Secondary Modern Girls’ School and St Catherine’s Secondary Modern Girls’ School amalgamated and became known as Notre Dame High School. The older pupils were accommodated on the Everton Valley site, while Y1 and 2 (known now as Y7 and 8) were educated in the Lower School (previously St Margaret Clitheroe High School), buildings opposite St John’s Primary School. Pupils were taught on these two sites until 1997 when a building programme was completed to extend the sporting and performance venues – namely a Sports Hall, Drama Studio and bespoke Music rooms.

2000s - Status as Liverpool’s First Performing Arts College

In 2001 all the Catholic High Schools in Liverpool inserted the title ‘Catholic’ into their name – Notre Dame Catholic High School. During the academic year 2002 Notre Dame Catholic High School was awarded the status of a Performing Arts College the first specialist academy for Performing Arts in the city of Liverpool. Along with the status came the opportunity to change the school’s name. Fittingly, the school returned to its original title of College. The new facilities were opened officially on 20th June 2003 by the new Arts Minister Estelle Morris.

During the next decade offers of new buildings or a new school disappointingly came to nothing. The Everton Valley buildings were constraining the needs of 21st century education. Miles of cabling was needed to enable internet access since the walls of the building were too thick to allow Wi-Fi efficiency.

In January 2009 Resonate the dedicated Liverpool Music Support Service moved to Notre Dame to continue working with all the schools in the Liverpool Authority.

2012 - Boys Applications Accepted

In 2012 boys applications were accepted and the academy became co-educational in Year 7. Notre Dame Catholic Academy was completely co-educational by September 2018. The Archdiocese welcomed this move since the closure of Campion High School for boys in July 2007 had left a void for the education of Catholic boys in the Everton area, and funded the conversion of the Victorian building to accommodate both.

The decision to accept boys coincided with plans for a new building, the site offered by Liverpool City Council was adjacent to Everton Park Lifestyles Centre and was heralded as part of Project Jennifer creating a new district centre around Great Homer Street, the regeneration of areas of north Liverpool by the city council.

The £15 million building was funded by a combination of city council and Government money and was the first school to benefit from Mayor Joe Anderson’s investment programme for schools in the city. In the summer of 2012 Willmott Dixon began work on the new site. The new school was completely built using a structure similar to a modern airport terminal building called EdVenture, which is far cheaper than traditional building methods and offers more flexibility because the internal layout and even the entire use of the site can be adapted in the future.

2013 - Farewell Mass

A farewell mass was held in Notre Dame Hall on Friday 19th April 2013 and many former staff returned to the academy. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Tom Williams, Fr Graeme Dunne (St Anthony’s parish) and Fr Michael Fitzsimons (St John’s parish). On the final day of the 2013 term staff and pupils enjoyed a concert in the summer sun performed by the Performing Arts Department.

The move to the completed building was made over the summer of 2013 and academy was opened to pupils on September 16th 2013. Everton Valley site was sold and a few years later the buildings were demolished to make way for a Liverpool Mutual Homes development aptly named Notre Dame.

The official opening of the academy on October 11th 2013 was attended by distinguished guests including the Sisters of Notre Dame, Bishop Tom Williams, Mayor Joe Anderson and Greg Clarke (The Minister for Cities).

2014 - The Bishop Tom Williams Chapel

The chapel, physically at the heart of the academy and spiritually the heart of the community, was officially dedicated by Bishop Tom Williams on the 19th September 2014. The performance area, which includes the dance studio and drama studio, was officially named The Dorothy Stang Theatre on March 4th 2016, a celebratory mass was concelebrated by Bishop Tom Williams, Fr Graeme Dunne (parish priest at St Anthony’s) and Fr Michael Fitzsimons (parish priest at St John’s) to acknowledge the remarkable life of Sister Dorothy Stang SND who was martyred in 2005 for her work to secure land rights for the peasants in Brazil. The academy library has been named after Mr Alf Westwell to acknowledge his unstinting service on the Notre Dame Catholic Academy Governing Body and as Chair over many years.

2015 - Ofsted Rating

The academy was graded a ‘Good’ school in 2015 by the Ofsted Inspection Team “Students’ behaviour is excellent. All students are well-mannered, polite and confident learners. They are well cared for and have many rich experiences and opportunities to develop their spiritual, moral, social and cultural skills exceptionally well.” Notre Dame Catholic Academy continues to thrive and has proved very popular with generations of parents in the locality. The school is oversubscribed year on year. The building has been the venue for Sisters of Notre Dame National Conferences, Liverpool Philharmonic Concerts and the recent Adoremus Youth Congress amongst others.

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