St John Berchman's School was opened in 1938. The founding Priest Superintendent of the school was Fr Albert Vandenbussche OMI, a priest from Belgium. In the following year the school was taken over by the Holy Family Sisters. A house was built for them just outside the boundary of Orlando, divided by a plantation of gum trees from the township and within a few minutes’ walk from the school. During the school holidays the sisters returned to the convent in town and their place was taken by any sisters from Parktown or visitors from other houses who felt they would enjoy the change. However, a change of government and the Group Areas Act put an end to this venture and the sisters had to drive fromJohannesburg city every morning and return each afternoon.
Zulu and Sotho were taught in parallel classes throughout the school. In June 1939 the school was inspected by official government inspectors and received a satisfactory report and a government grant. By 1940 the school had grown considerably. Double classes were needed in Grades 1 and 2, and triple classes in Standard 1. In 1942 five priests arrived to conduct Christian Doctrine examinations. There was a battle with teachers over corporal punishment.
The opening of Blessed Martin School in Orlando West in 1946 relieved some of the pressure on St John Berchman's. The following year a Standard 6 pupil won a bursary from the Education Department, but this was somewhat offset by the theft of all the wood from the woodwork room and the doors from the toilets. This night-time theft has become a permanent feature of the school, and the staff and learners did not know how much equipment they
would find in place when they returned after a weekend.
In 1949 the school was visited by Mother Maria Estelle from the Holy Family General Council. The school staged a successful production of “The Message of Fatima”. By 1950 the growth in numbers necessitated both morning and afternoon sessions. Father Vandenbussche died in 1953. He was deeply loved as a dedicated missionary, great educationist and servant to all.
Being a primary school, St John Berchman's weathered the unrest of the seventies and eighties successfully. A big step forward was the inauguration of a special remedial class in 1985, taught by Sr Rita who had been specially trained for the purpose.
In 1998, a survey of diocesan schools in Soweto brought to light the need for a third Catholic high school in Soweto. After extensive negotiations with parents and the parishes of Orlando West and Orlando East, the Boards of Governors of St Martin de Porres and St John Berchman's, Orlando East, amalgamated in 2000. Primary school classes were gradually transferred to St John Berchman's, and the school is now a feeder primary school to St Martin de Porres high school.
St John Berchman's (1599-1621) was named "the Laughing Saint" by his colleagues because of his constant smile and merry laugh. As a Jesuit seminarian, he was noted for his conscientious attitude toward his studies and great respect for his teachers. He made kindness, courtesy, and constant fidelity an important part of his holiness. These virtues, exemplified by our patron saint, are practised in our school, which we try to make a true happy family.
140 Visagie Street
PO Box 8149, Pretoria, 0001
012 321 2094