The Sister Mary Margarent Pignone, SNDdeN Media Center
Notre Dame St Peter’s School, Kroonstad, South Africa
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) were invited by the then Ecclesiastical Administrator of the region, to Kroonstad, Free State Province, South Africa in 1907, to open a “boarding school for young ladies”. The school grew in reputation and accepted pupils from all over Southern Africa Including the writers, who lived in Zambia at the time, and with several other students travelled a four-day train journey to attend the school.
In 1972, the SNDdeNs gave up the school, with much sadness, believing they were called to work with people most discriminated against in apartheid South Africa. The buildings changed hands several times, and in 1990 the property was given to a local farmer to oversee. He allowed anyone to use and abuse the site, until it had had been stripped of every moveable part (of the structure).
In 1999 the Provincial Public Works Department offered the building ‘voetstoots’ (as is) to the SNDdeN for educational purposes, saying it would require 7 Million SA Rands to restore, and the same amount to demolish. The SNDs, together with the local Bishop and three other Religious Congregations, formed a non-profit company to accept the property — under the management of Sr Mary Margaret Pignone SNDdeN, a member of the historic Maryland Province of the SNDdeN.
After completing a doctoral degree in International Development at American University in Washington, DC, Sr Mary Margaret came to South Africa in 1999 to offer her services to the SNDdeN South African Province, in any way that would assist them with their mission. Her arrival at this time was fortuitous, and Sr. Mary Margaret spent the next 5 years doing needs’ assessments, establishing the framework for the mission, fund-raising and offering training programs to local people to help reduce unemployment and dependency. The building, section by section, was gradually rendered usable under her attention.
After Sr. Mary Margaret returned to USA, the structures she had put in place continued to raise funds, manage and complete the renovation of the building. This was finally achieved at the end of 2020. The property is currently the home of Notre Dame St Peter’s School offering education to girls and boys from Pre-school to Grade 12.
Current Use of the Property and Buildings
At the end of 2021 renovation of the last two floors of the north wing were completed, making available some classrooms, office space and a spacious room for the school’s much needed Media Centre.
The school offers its students, who mainly come from an economically deprived township, the School-leaving Certificate offered by the Independent Examinations’ Board (IEB), recognized internationally. It is the only school in Kroonstad to do this, and only one of four in the Free State Province.
School fees are kept as low as possible (R10 000.00 / $660 per year in Grade 12), and are supplemented from money from a Bursary Fund, which has been established mainly from contributions from pupils in the school’s pre-1972 era, and the SNDdeN South Africa Province.
Need for Multimedia Centre
All schools today need to provide their staff and students with access to resources on the internet, as well as with the know-how to access these. Very few students have access to computers or the internet in their home situation.
A dedicated media centre, with an appropriately qualified supervisor, will provide the students with necessary access to the internet for research and projects, in a supervised and safe place. The Independent Examinations Board requires of the Grade 12 class a certain amount of research in several subjects. In the urban areas, from which the IEB draw most of their clients, schools, libraries and community centers offer such facilities. Kroonstad does not even have a public library anymore.
In addition to her work in rehabilitating the Old Convent, as described above, Sr. Mary Margaret was ahead of her time in introducing the SNDdeNs in South Africa, and further afield, to the use of personal computers and the world-wide network. In the 1980s, while pursuing doctoral studies in Development, Sr. Mary Margaret visited South Africa and left us the first laptop owned by the region. She had also taught us how to make videos of our work and exchange these with other Notre Dame Schools across the Congregation.
Her passion for using resources available through modern technology, and her sharing this passion with students and their teachers, is fittingly acknowledged by this Media Centre. This Center becomes part of this earliest and most significant site in the history of SNDdeN in South Africa. Dedicating this Media Centre to Mary Margaret’s memory is a way of acknowledging her significant contribution of “redeeming” this site, now Notre Dame St Peter’s, Kroonstad.
Written by Staff and Sisters at St. Peter’s, Kroonstad.