by Munyaradzi Mandipaza

St Ignatius College comes of age

St Ignatius College celebrates its 60th Anniversary this year, marking six decades since the college first opened its doors to students in 1962. Launched in the colonial era, the school has survived multiple hurdles over the years.

In commemoration of the milestone event, several activities have been lined up to run under the theme, ‘Celebrating Legacy, Growing Forward’. The theme captures the jubilant mood associated with the diamond jubilee while spotlighting the school’s ongoing transformation from a mission school to a private college.

As we celebrate this important milestone, we invite you to join us and be part of the legacy.


The College was founded by the Jesuits in 1962.  At that time Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was governed by a racist regime and the aim was to perpetuate racialism.  There were few quality secondary schools offering quality education to Form Six black students.  If the blacks were provided with such a service, they would pursue university education.  This would present competition and a threat to the security of the whites.  The Jesuits superior at the time, Fr. Terrence Corrigan, and his team, deemed it important to offer quality education, up to Form Six, to Africans, just like white students receiving at another Jesuit school, St Georges College.  The school was to be named St Ignatius College after the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  It would offer a high-class academic education, based on Catholic and Jesuit values.  In accordance with Christian principles, the school was to be multi-racial. At the beginning there were two white boys and two-coloured boys among the predominantly black student body.  But as racial attitudes and laws hardened in Rhodesia (especially under the Rhodesia Front Government), this became impossible.  Father Corrigan entrusted the St. Ignatius project to Father Desmond Ford, at that time Rector of St. Georges College.

Father Ford chose a beautiful spot, with good access to water, on one of the wooded Chishawasha Hills. In 1961 the difficult job of clearing and levelling the site for the construction of buildings began.  In 1962, St. Ignatius College opened its doors to sixty Form One male students.  Apart from Father Ford, there were three other Jesuits on the staff, Father James Cogger, Father Brian Porter (at that time a Jesuit scholastic) and Brother Francis Fitzsimmons.  Father Porter returned to the school in 1968, after ordination, and spent many years there.

Meanwhile, the construction of further classrooms and hostel blocks continued, under the watchful eye of Mr. Gutsa, the building contractor.  The first students wrote their Junior Certificate in 1963, School Certificate in 1965 and High School Certificate in 1967.

In that same year, three Mary Ward Sisters (sisters Xaveria, Bonafacia and Paula) came to work at the school.  Bonafacia and Paula are blood sisters.  In 1969 Sister Stephana, another blood sister of the two, also joined St.Ignatius College.  The Mary Ward Sisters (now Congregatio Jesu) have a close bond with the Jesuits since they share the same Jesuit constitutions.  Besides assisting in the school, they also ran a domestic science course for local girls.  In 1970, it was decided that the College would take girl students into form three.  This later changed to admitting girls to form five and six, as is still the case today.  The Mary Ward Sisters took the responsibility of running the hostels for the girls as well as teaching in the school.

The 70s were difficult and dangerous years, especially at the height of the liberation war.  The College authorities were frequently visited by the guerrillas, whom they were supporting with provisions and other supplies.  Father Berry, the headmaster, even marched with the students to Salisbury (Harare) to protest against the Smith regime.  These were highly illegal activities, attracting heavy penalties.  Luckily the College continued to function through those dangerous years.

Over the past sixty years, over 4000 students have passed through the school.  Each year St. Ignatius produces some of the best ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level results in the country.  The school also excels in such extra-curricular activities as sports, swimming, debating, public speaking, chess, music, and choir.  Many alumni have gone on to make names for themselves in religious life, medicine, law, education, engineering, banking, commerce, journalism, and other fields.  Competition to find places at the school is fierce and each year a large number sadly have to be turned away.

The first teachers were practically all Jesuits and Mary Ward Sisters.  Today, the College has a Jesuit Rector, a chaplain, assistant chaplain and one scholastic, three CJ Sisters as well as a lay Headmaster, administrator, deputy headmaster, twenty-four lay teachers and thirty nine non-teaching staff.  There are 387 male students in Forms One to Six and fifty-eight female students in Form Five and Six.  Situated some twenty-five kilometres from Harare, the school stands on one of the Chishawasha Hilltops which offer a spectacular view.  The number of buildings has increased over the years and today there is an impressive and well-maintained campus.

St. Ignatius College has a Jesuit school shares with Jesuit schools, colleges, and universities all over the world, a common vision, goals and values.  These are based on the Christian teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola and on Jesuit educational policy documents formulated over a 500-year period of Jesuit engagement and education.  The Jesuit educational vision is to provide its students with a holistic education (academic, social, moral, and spiritual).  It aims to produce not only academically accomplished students but ‘men and women for others.’

The school motto is ‘Ignem Mittite In Terram’ (set the world on fire).  It is hoped that students leaving the College will bring the fire of God’s spirit into the world.  They will be concerned about creating a better society, based on God’s kingdom values of justice, peace love and freedom.  The school has a ‘Jesuit Ethos committee’ whose task is to bring the Ignatian values to the students, staff, parents and former students.


 A ‘Whitie’ at St. Igantius College from 1962 to 1965

A testimony from one of the first students

My family came from a dairy farm in England to a tobacco farm in Umvukwes (now Mvurwi) in 1958 when I was a ‘pommie’ from the start.  Rhodesia at the time has a population of 4 milliom Africans and 250000 whites.  When I was 10, I was sent to board at Hartman House for 2 years.  In 1962, when I was 12, my parents decided, in conjunction with our good friends the Actons, to send me and my contemporary, Peter Acton, to a new school founded by the Jesuits, St. Ignatius College in Chishawasha.

My parents were very Catholic, very liberal, and very naïve! The hope was that Rhodesia’s racial tensions might be overcome if the next generation grew accustomed to each other in the classroom and on the playing fields.  Funding for the construction of St. Ignatius was raised from Catholic communities in America and Europe, on the premise, as I remember at the time, from articles in the Catholic Universe and the Tablet.  The expectation was that Peter Acton and I were merely the first, and that a flood of whites would follow our lead, so that St. Ignatius would become fully ‘integrated.’

The author Evelyn Waugh, who was visiting Rhodesia at the time, was less sanguine. Racial politics was becoming increasingly polarised.  Sadly, Waugh was proved right and the only ‘whitie’ to follow us to St. Ignatius was my younger brother, Sebastian.  In my third year at St. Ignatius in 1965, Ian Smith declared UDI and the rest is history.  The school and my parents realised that the dream of integration would never happen, and I was sent back to St George’s.

So what was life like at St Ignatius in 1962? I was not all upset to be one of only two whites among so many Africans.  On the farm at home all my friends were African.  I remember those years as a jolly time.  The discipline was far less strict than at Hartman House, where I, with other boys, were regularly caned.  Peter and I never properly integrated into St. Ignatius boarding school life.  While we competed in the classroom and in the limited sporting activities, we were housed, not at the school, but with Mrs Burrows, a childless Brigadier’s widow, living in some comfort about 5 miles away from Umwimsidale.

So it was that we found ourselves wrenched from Hartman House with huge dormitories, cold morning showers, porridge in a silent refectory and regular canings, and subjected to the hardship of Mrs Burrows’ establishment, run in the tradition of the Indian Raj, with morning coffee, cooked breakfast, lovingly prepared lunch box, returning in the evening to a glass of sherry before dinner.

The twice daily bicycle ride between Umwimsidale Road and St. Ignatius held its own history, including the temptations of the mango seller at the corner with Enterprise Road, the garage with ice cold Fantas, the flat ride across the Chishawasha Road, the handsome Seminary with its elliptical arches and finally the awesome ascent up the hill to the College.

It is curious to map this journey on Google earth now.  After a century, there are surprisingly few new roads, but I see plenty od swimming pools and tennis courts.  So someone is doing OK!

Father Desmond Ford was the headmaster when I joined in 1962.  He was full of fun.  I remember him keeping us entertained throughout our first history lesson with a picture of our Longmans History Book.  He pointed out that the 16th Century Portuguese explorer, cogitating a globe, looked more like someone guarding a chicken in a basket.

Father Ford did not stay long.  He was called away by ill health or another assignment.  Frequent turnabouts were a regular occurrence in the early years of St. Ignatius.  In my 3 years there were 3 changes of headmasters.  The next Headmaster was Fr Hughes.  He taught French and zoomed around the place in a green Morris Minor.  He had been a White Brother and was altogether more grave than Fr Ford.

Quite soon poor Fr Hughes became unwell and was replaced by Fr Spence.  He was the only priest to cane me at St. Ignatius.  I do not believe anyone else was ever caned there.  Being hardened by HH it was not particularly traumatic experience for me and I had the impression that Fr Spence had never caned anyone before and was doing it to see what it felt like.  I think he felt guilty about it.  So shortly afterwards I told him that the punishment had been ‘firm but fair.’ It hadn’t been.  It was entirely gratuitous, but it cheered him up.   Fr Spence taught Latin and English.  Thanks to him I can still quote passages from Twelfth Night “If music be the food of love……etc.”

Father Fitzsimmons was tall, gentle, and kind.  He taught R.E. Very early on he suffered from cancer of the intestine.  I remember him holding out the span of his long, white fingers and explaining to me that this was how much intestine he was left with after his operation.

Father Kennedy was the only St Ignatius priest who could speak Shona.  In fact he was author of a Shona text book and taught the language at the school, though I do remember some of the boys challenging him on his grammar and vocabulary.  Father Kennedy was very kind, and popular with the boys.

A jolly, red-headed, be-sandled, chalk-shrouded Brother Porter, taught Physics and Chemistry.  He was justifiably proud of his lab which had jars of exciting ingredients that could spontaneously ignite at any moment. The lab had benches (with gas taps) rather than desks.  I used to sit at the front next to Martin Harvey, who was from Malawi and whose mother I remember was a nurse.  I enjoyed science (the source of my nickname ‘CO2’) and did well at it, but never as well as Martin Harvey, who always did better.

A breath of fresh air were two VSOs from Manchester (one of whom I think was called McCarthy), who brought with them the exciting scent of the social revolution beginning in the West, the more relaxed approach to authority and the thrilling music of the Beatles and Manfred Mann.

The school was still under construction when we arrived and there were no sporting fields.  I do not recall any sporting endeavours until my third and final year, and they were limited to a few games of football, softball and some athletics.  We did not feel cheated by this.

Peter and I both been rubbish sportsmen at Hartman House, so we were comfortable being required to engage in some gentle bush clearance, with badzas and sickles, rather than being ground down in a rugby scrum.

I have good memories of the rainy season, spending morning breaks with my friend Claudio Rupende, making a nest in the tall grass and gorging on sweet mazhanje, when in season.  Peter Acton would be doing likewise in his den nearby with his pal Christopher Chikumba.

I ama sure the boys at St. Ignatius today wander off in ones and two to feast on mazhanje and mahobahobas (sic).

Simon Rous.  (Pioneer student ) 27 June 2012