Our History

History of St Bernadette School

In September 1958 Clapham Park was a hub of excitement when St Bernadette School warmly opened its doors to a host of enthusiastic and excited boys and girls.  The school was ready to embark on a journey offering the highest level of education and the teachings of the Catholic way of life.

The idea to build the school was pioneered and overseen by the La Retraite Sisters who also managed and taught in La Retraite secondary school for girls.  St Bernadette adjoined La Retraite, and was originally built to teach mixed infants and junior girls.  However in 1989 it was subject to a change which saw the infants being taught at St Bede’s school and the junior boys and girls being taught at St Bernadette.  Up until 1985 all the Headteachers had been sisters from the La Retraite Order and the success of the school was due to the sisters indefatigable commitment, hard work and leadership.

Sister Eileen Hewitt, Assistant Headteacher in in 1980 writes:

‘St Bernadette in essence existed as a prep school within the La Retraite building since the 1880s as part of the independent senior school.  La Retraite School was granted voluntary aided status just prior to the second world war.  This meant that the staff were now paid by the local authority and the younger pupils were allowed to stay on in the building.’

During the Second World War, despite significant bombing in the area, no one was killed or injured at the school. After the war Mother Superior arrived from France and declared, ‘In thanksgiving to God for the protection given to the school, the order will pay for a new school within the grounds of La Retraite’.  There was also a more practical reason for building; under the Butler Education Act of 1944, no primary school could be part of a secondary school building.

It was a further 14 years from the date of the planning permission being granted before the school was actually built.

Mother Superior wished to name the school after Our Lady, however there was already an Our Lady’s school in Upper Norwood and a St Mary’s school in Clapham.  She therefore decided that, as it was the centenary of the Apparition of Our Lady to St Bernadette at Lourdes, that would make a good name.  She said ‘When you think of St Bernadette, you think of Our Lady, so that works wonderfully!’


Previous Headteachers

1958 to 1966  Sister Ruth Ashworth

1966 to 1970  Sister Pauline Mahoney

1970 to 1986  Sister Helen Dunn

1986 to 2001  Mr Keith D’Cruz

2001 to 2006  Mr Tony Board

Our Motto

Laborare est Orare meaning ‘work is prayer’ is the motto of St Bernadette school and comes from the Benedict monks who placed equal merit on the values of prayer, study and work and believed in getting their ‘hands dirty!’


School Closure Notice

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9th March 2020

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Head Teacher's Welcome

  Welcome to our school. St Bernadette Catholic Junior School is situated in Clapham Park and provides a rich learning environment for our pupils where the gospel values are learned, lived and celebrated.

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