The history of St. Patrick’s High School mirrors to a great extent the history of the city that gave it birth and which it is privileged to serve. When the school opened its doors to its first handful of students on May 6, 1861, a mere 18 years had passed since the annexation of Sindh into the British empire, when Karachi had been made the regional capital. Its strategic location caused the British to view it as an area of great potential; they converted part of its coast into a harbor and built a strategic and commercial port. Soon, it had grown into a flourishing little trading town and a British Army Headquarters, reinforced by military cantonments just outside the town limits. By the 1850’s, Karachi’s population had grown to about 14,000, and the continuing migration to the town of people from Bombay, Goa, Kuchh and other parts of the subcontinent created a need for quality educational institutions for their progeny.
St. Patrick’s began life as a co-educational parish school administered by the fathers of the Jesuit religious order, but a mere one year later the Daughters of the Cross nuns established St. Joseph’s Convent School for girls, and St. Patrick’s became a boy’s school, a status it retained for well over a century. In 1867, it was officially registered as a high school.
It was during the tenure of the Jesuits, who administered the school until 1935, that its complexion changed from that of a small parish institution to one that expanded its scope to encompass the sons of the landed aristocrat, the bureaucrat, the plutocrat – and the ordinary people from all walks of life, regardless of caste, creed, ethnic or economic distinctions. The fathers of the Franciscan order, who took over the management of the school from the Jesuits, continued this tradition, until they in turn handed the torch to the priests of the Archdiocese of Karachi in 1950. That tradition continues to date to be one of the proudest of the many noble traditions which St. Patrick’s boasts: A school perceived by the vast majority as one of the elite schools of the country is in point of fact far from elitist in its approach to the students to whom it grants admission.
Its distinction comes from meritocracy rather than aristocracy, which is arguably an accident of birth. The school’s first candidate for Matriculation, Thomas Duncan, was sent up in 1869. He stood First Class First in the Bombay Presidency and set a precedent that many of St. Patrick’s tens of thousands of students have continued to emulate, achieving ever-new records of academic and extra-curricular success and breaking apparently insuperable barriers of performance, both during their time in school and, more importantly, in their lives and careers afterwards. “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life, “wrote Plato in ‘The Republic’, It is that elite, albeit holistic, kind of education that St. Patrick’s has always striven to impart to its students. It the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then St. Patrick’s can take justifiable pride in the outstanding triumphs of its countless alumni, among whom can be counted a head of state, heads of government, princes and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, federal and provincial ministers, senior civil servants, captains of commerce and industry, judges of the superior judiciary, chiefs and senior officers of the armed forces, heads of the national flag carrier, railways and port authority, ambassadors, mayors, financial wizards, scientists, academics, sports luminaries, and myriad practitioners of the medical, engineering, legal and other professions. In just about every realm of life in this country and abroad, St. Patrick’s alumni cover such a vast spectrum of attainment that to mention even one by name would constitute a gross injustice.
However, “education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better that you found it, “says Marian Wright Edelman, an American rights activist. And it is this particular definition that best fits its alumni’s greatest distinction: Were it not for the nameless, unsung ex-students who continue to make such a positive difference in their various spheres of influence, our world would indeed be a poorer place.
That it was the great teachers and mentors of St. Patrick’s, past and present, who started these students off on their diverse journeys of discovery and accomplishment is also an undeniable fact. It is said that teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions, and according to social scientist K. Patricia Cross, “The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate ‘apparently ordinary’ people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people, “ And, as the famous intellectual, Henry Brooks Adams so aptly averred, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.”
Today’s Karachi, home to an estimated 17 million people, is a buzzing hive of industrial activity, a major centre of international trade and investment, and a commercial hub for a wide geographical region. Paralleling that civic reality is the present actuality of St. Patrick’s High School: a huge campus with a student body in excess of 6300, varied academic tracks that encompass both Matriculation as well as ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels under the University of Cambridge, an institute of science & technology for technical and vocational education, a college of elementary education for teacher certification, well-equipped science and computer laboratories, and comprehensive co-curricular activities.
On this sesquicentennial anniversary, it is worth noting that while our beloved alma mater has come a very long way, one aspect is immutable – and that is its unshakable commitment to maintain the highest standards of excellence in education while inculcating in its students the ultimate ideals of service to God and mankind.