St. Mary’s is one of the most prestigious schools of Calcutta having one of the biggest campuses in the city comprising two football fields, an auditorium, a basketball court, a skating rink, parks, badminton court and of course class rooms. The school also has a library, computer centres, laboratories and a chapel hosting mass and other holy events.
As the school was also a residential school for orphans and the underprivileged till 2006, it also has dormitories, a dining hall and a kitchen, along with servants’ quarters and the three main school buildings. However, the boarding closed down in 2004 and the school is now run as a day school only.
St. Mary’s provides education under the ICSE/ISC board, New Delhi and is run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Ireland. SMO has classes from the Nursery section up to +2 level i.e. Class XI and XII (Commerce section only). From the 2012 session admission of girls to the +2 level has started, breaking the school’s long-standing reputation of being a premier Boys’ only school in Calcutta.
Up to the 1990s, the Brothers used to oversee the running of the school, and also used to take classes. From the 90s, the school started appointing specialist educationists as the Principal or Headmistress, starting with Mrs. Paula Ghosh, who took over the running of the day school.
The Brothers focused on the orphanage and underprivileged sections of society. They could be seen walking purposefully through the long aisles and corridors of the school in their white cassocks. They also worked on overall administration of the school and social upliftment of the underprivileged, apart from running the NIOS section of the school.
St. Mary’s Orphanage & Day School has also produced many notable alumni, including ace shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth in the 50m prone rifle event at the London Olympics of 2012.
The history of St. Mary’s starts two centuries ago in the 1840s, when The Congregation of Christian Brothers (Missionaries of Ireland) founded the Calcutta Male Orphanage at Murgihata, Calcutta. The property at Dumdum was obtained to be a Retreat House when the Brothers arrived in India. The property at Dum Dum was purchased by Archbishop Carew in 1853 and handed over to the Calcutta Brothers. It was then known as St. Xavier’s Retreat.
For several years the Brothers used it as a retreat house and for weekly meetings. Under Br. J.B. Culhane, then Provincial, the Villa was pulled down and the foundations for a two storeyed building were laid. They had begun building the first floor and preparations for roofing were going on. Unfortunately, in 1943, there was severe financial distress and the work came to a stop.
Around this time a Redemptorist, Father Greene preached a Retreat to the students of St. Joseph’s College, Calcutta. He heard of the problem and suggested that a Mass be offered in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour with a promise to rename the school after our Lady.
Miraculously, from the day the Mass was offered, everything worked out smoothly. The United States Army, then newly arrived in Calcutta, was approached, and the Engineering section agreed to start the work at once and finish the building according to the plan. They asked that the premises be available for their use during the war and for six months after the cessation of hostilities.
The halted work began in full swing and the US Army troops took up residence in August 1943. As many as 1,200 men were housed in the school at various times. The School had the appearance of an armed camp. The property was handed back to the Brothers in 1946 after the war. Credit for the plan and execution of the major portion of the work goes to Br. J. B. Culhane assisted by Br. P.F. McCarthy who spent 2 strenuous year in Dum Dum. Both had the satisfaction of seeing the building completed according to plan. In 1947, coincident with the year of Indian Independence, the old Catholic Male Orphanage from Murgihata (est. 1848) was transferred to the Dumdum site.
Renamed to St. Mary’s Orphanage and Day School (SMO) was established as a Christian Brother Institution educating boys who had lost their parents, and those who came from broken and marginalized families. To answer the growing needs of society, day scholars were admitted subsequently. The school particularly serves the northern and eastern part of Calcutta and North 24 Parganas District.
The Christian Brothers
The Congregation of Christian Brothers (officially, in Latin: Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum; members of the order use the post-nominal “CFC”) is a worldwide religious community within the Catholic Church, founded by Edmund Rice.
The Christian Brothers chiefly work for the evangelisation and education of youth, and are involved in many ministries, especially with the poor. The Brothers’ schools include primary, secondary and technical schools, orphanages and schools for the deaf. A number of these technical schools originally taught poor children trades such as carpentry and building skills for which they could progress to gain apprenticeships and employment.
Their first school was opened in Waterford, Ireland, in 1802.
The congregation of Irish Christian Brothers spread to Liverpool and other parts of England. These new ventures were not always immediately successful. Two brothers had been sent to Gibraltar to establish an institute in 1835. However, despite initial successes they left in August 1837 on account of disagreements with the local priests. The school eventually flourished supplying education to the twentieth century. The “Line Wall College” was noted in 1930 for the education that it supplied to “well to do” children.
Brother Ambrose Treacy established a presence in Melbourne, Australia in 1868, in 1875 in Brisbane, Australia and in 1876 a school was commenced in Dunedin, New Zealand. In 1875 a school was opened in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
- In 1886 the Pope requested that they consider setting up in India, and a province of the congregation was established there.
- In 1900 came the invitation to establish houses in Rome, and in 1906 schools were established in New York City.
- In 1940 Iona College was founded in New York, as a Higher Education College, facilitating poorer high school graduates to progress to a College education.
- In 1955 Stella Maris College (Montevideo) in Uruguay was established.
- In 1967, the Christian Brothers had a membership of about 5,000, teaching in around 600 schools.
- The Christian Brothers teacher training center has become the Marino Institute for Education which has trained lay teachers since 1972 and has offered degrees validated by the University of Dublin since 1974.
- In 2012 Trinity College Dublin became a co-trustee with the Brothers of the Institute.