‘Forever grateful’ for one man’s dream that became IGS

Honouring Founding IGS Principal Professor Reg St Leon OAM at our Primary School and High School assemblies earlier this week, staff shared inspiring stories of the earliest years of our School.

IGS Director of Dramatic Arts Rita Morabito was one of three founding members of the School, and the first Italian teacher.

“We began with 40 students in total, not in a little house but rather in a heritage convent site that had become available in Randwick,” Ms Morabito said at the High School memorial assembly. 

“Reg’s passion, fervour and unflinching conviction that learning a language was an exercise in academic excellence meant that he took us along with him to create a vision for a school like no other.”

Ms Morabito reflected on the excitement of this time, and that “Reg was so passionate about the dream, that parents mortgaged their homes to help fund this idea”.

“We worked without wages for weeks,” she said. “We did this, so that this School would survive no matter how many obstacles we faced.”

Professor St Leon with students

Ms Morabito shared that Professor St Leon was “such a charismatic person”, and “a man of integrity, humility and wisdom”.

“He was kind, supportive, and believed in and trusted us by encouraging us to try new ideas and to be bold risk takers,” she said. “A school like ours didn’t exist anywhere in the world!”

It was Professor St Leon’s “fighting and risk taking spirit” that Ms Morabito believes “has taken on a life of its own” here at IGS.

“IGS now produces bold and creative thinkers who continue to challenge the status quo to design a fairer and more accepting world,” she said. “Students traverse and accept languages and cultures and differences with such ease.”

Ms Morabito said she is “forever grateful to Reg St Leon for what he had the courage to begin” and knows that our students “will continue his legacy by making the absolute most of this education in an environment that truly is like no other”.

Ms Morabito and Professor St Leon at the IGS Learning Journeys book launch

IGS Head of Primary Languages Vilma Rotellini told the Primary School assembly how she had met the founding Principal Reg St Leon in 1984, and he had invited her to come and work with him, teaching Italian.

“Look at IGS today, with about 1,250 students from Preschool to Year 12 and every single one of you here in Primary is learning another language,” Ms Rotellini said.

“All of this is because of one man’s extraordinary dream. Reg believed that every child should have an opportunity to learn another language an early age, for a chunk of time, over a period of time, hearing the language as much as possible.

“Boys and girls, along the way, for IGS to keep going there were so many challenges, but Reg’s dream was so strong. He was such a determined man! He never gave up.”

Unveiling the Reg St Leon Building plaque at IGS

Ms Rotellini reflected that Professor St Leon “was always positive, committed and passionate about language education”.

“He made us, the teachers and parents at that time, realise and believe in the importance of what we were doing, and we fought along with him to keep the School open,” she said. 

“Reg was a serious man but he also loved to party and celebrate life.

“There were many evening at his home and other places where we gathered, teachers from various backgrounds discussing, eating, sitting around the piano singing and laughing.”

Ms Rotellini told students that she used to be embarrassed by her Italian background, but is “so grateful to Reg”.

“He made me realise that speaking another language is very special – and I want you to understand that it’s special, too!” she said. 

“Because when you learn a language you think differently and see things differently.

“You connect with others, and understand and accept difference.”

Ms Rotellini expressed how lucky she feels, and how lucky our students are.

“How lucky are we, and all the other children in the future who will attend IGS… All because of Reg’s dream that came true!” she said.

“So when you go into your language classes, give it everything you’ve got, because Reg St Leon gave it everything he had and dedicated his whole life to his passion for languages.”

Please view IGS Principal Shauna Colnan’s tribute to Professor Reg St Leon OAM and our coverage of Reg’s memorial service.

Ms Vilma Rotellini, Professor St Leon and Ms Rita Morabito at an IGS Speech Night