THE CONVENT BUILDING.
Designed in 1905 by Wellington architect John Sydney Swan, the imposing and elegant four-storey Convent Building was opened in 1906, functioning as a school and Sacré Coeur convent for nearly 80 years before its demolition in 2018.
The Convent Building was the first in Swan’s series of major commissions for the Catholic Church - followed by St Gerard’s Church on Mt Victoria, Our Lady of Compassion Convent in Island Bay, and St Mary’s Presbytery in central Wellington.
The landmark building’s Gothic, Tudor, Edwardian and Romanesque architectural influences - weathered light-grey plastered brick, a steeply pitched, iron-clad roof and colonial style white-painted wooden verandahs- set it apart in Island Bay’s suburban neighbourhood. The entrance was flanked by Tudor gabled wings with rectangular Edwardian windows, tall, rounded Romanesque windows, and a centred niche with the Sacré Coeur emblem - two hearts encircled by lilies. Internal stairwell banisters featured ‘cross’ motifs that were also depicted on the building’s exterior. Archbishop Redwood laid the building’s commemorative stone in 1905.
The Convent Building provided a complete living and working environment for pupils, teachers and household staff with around 120 rooms: the ground floor housed kitchen, dining and parlour rooms; classrooms and assembly rooms were on the first floor; more classrooms, the 4th form boarders’ dormitory and staff rooms were on the second floor; and the Immaculate Conception Dormitory for 3rd Formers and the Holy Child Dormitory and infirmary were on the third floor. There was a stage with a proscenium arch in the Assembly Hall, a spacious Library, and a small rimu pulpit balcony where girls could present readings in the Main Dining Room. Until 1909, the unfinished top floor was much appreciated by girls as ‘excellent for indoor games’. The Convent Building was adjoined to the French Gothic Chapel of the Sacred Heart when it was built in 1929-30 through 'The Cloister', an enclosed walkway.
Today, the Convent Building is remembered for its romanticised grandeur, and as a stern, ‘Peaked Grey Fortress’. Alumna Sister Kennedy wrote that the 1998 reunion of over 800 religious, staff and alumnae confirmed the enduring legacy of Erskine College/ Sacre Coeur ‘... friendship, shared memories… customs within a great Tradition…. we celebrate an education that encouraged us to think and question, to look beyond the immediate fact or event for a deeper and broader meaning.'
Alumna Claudia Wysocki further expressed this collective attachment ‘I feel too, that since the closure of Erskine ... our sense of belonging to the school has grown stronger, often it is those things in life that we no longer have that we come to appreciate the more.'