St Dominic’s School for the Deaf

St Dominic’s School for the Deaf opened in 1944 to provide a Catholic based education to deaf children, and ran for 45 years.

St Dominic's - on the move

Deaf students at St Dominic's School for the Deaf, Island Bay, Wellington (Source: City District Health Nurse, Archives New Zealand)

In the 1940s, there were two deaf schools in New Zealand, one at Sumner and one in Auckland. Father Dominic Phillips C.M was concerned that Deaf children in New Zealand were not receiving a Catholic education. Father Phillips employed the help of the Dominican Sisters.

Author Dorothy Pilkington in her comprehensive book on education at St Dominic’s, ‘We see what you mean..’ notes that Sisters Stanislaus and Rose went over to Waratah, Australia in 1943 to study education at another Catholic school. The Sisters learnt sign language. On their return, they discovered that the NZ Government had made a decision to use oralism to teach deaf children. St Dominic’s was opened in 1944.

End of an era

Screenshot of footage from 'National Film Unit visits St Dominics School for the Deaf', 1950.

Social studies, arts, crafts and sport were taught by the sisters and teams from the convent competed against outside schools. Trained teachers were employed in the 1960’s and taught alongside the Sisters. Girls attended Brownie groups in the local community and learnt ballet while the boys played rugby.

St Dominic’s was integrated into the state education system in 1983 to ease the financial burden and the Sisters had to apply for jobs.

Due to falling numbers, St Dominic’s closed in May 1989.

Reference: Pilkington, D. (2008) ‘We see what you mean…a history of St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children and the Catholic Ministry in New Zealand,’ St Dominic’s School for the Deaf Historical Society Inc., Palmerston North.

Alive in living memory

Daniel Beech, an ex-student who was awarded the Benemerenti (“well deserved”) Medal of the Catholic Church in 1997.
Mary Johnson, an ex-student who was awarded the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2010, for services to the Deaf Community.

St Dominic’s may be closed, but its achievements remain in the high number of community leaders that it taught. Ex-students of the school have mostly remained a close and supportive group, and many have taken on prominent roles in the development of the Deaf community nationwide for many years.

SignDNA would love to hear from you if you have films of your time at St Dominic’s, or know where we may be able to locate them.

Can also be found in

  1. 1965
    Donated by Mary Johnson Image of Mary Johnson

    St Dominic School for the Deaf, Fielding: First Reunion, 1965

    St Dominics School for the Deaf in Fielding celebrates their first school reunion in 1965. The reunion was one year after the school had relocated to Fielding from Wellington.

  2. 1960s
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    St Dominics Gala

    St Dominics School for the Deaf hold their annual Gala Day – year unknown.

  3. 1950
    Donated by Archives New Zealand Image of Archives New Zealand

    National Film Unit visits St Dominics School for the Deaf

    The Government’s National Film Unit follows the City District Health Nurse as she visits students at St Dominic’s School for the Deaf.

  4. 1976
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    Understand the Silence: A Silent Documentary about the Silent World of Deafness

    This documentary was filmed and edited by Joan Bailey and released in 1976. It covers the preparation and running of the St Dominics Gala Day, as well as Manawatu Deaf Club picnics, and the Manawatu Womens Group.

  5. 1987
    Donated by Television New Zealand Archive Image of Television New Zealand Archive

    Parents speak of their fears for the future of St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children

    Following the potential closure of St Dominic's, parents express their concerns at a community meeting for their deaf children’s future if they were to be mainstreamed into a local school.

  6. 1995
    Donated by Television New Zealand Archive Image of Television New Zealand Archive

    David Loving-Molloy appears on ‘Praise Be’

    David Loving-Molloy of the Catholic Deaf Centre in Palmerston North joins Graeme Thomson on ‘Praise Be’ to share his thoughts about Deaf Awareness Week, and the work he does with the Deaf community.