The current site where the school is today began as an “Orphanage School” back in 1892. It was started by two (2) OLSH sisters who arrived from Issoudon, France. They first settled at Volavolo, the first mission station. Twelve (12) months later they moved to Vunapope to start the school.
Later, in 1902, the MSC sisters arrived in Vunapope. On the 21st January 1903, the sisters took over the management of the school which catered for mixed-race children. It was originally s boarding school got boys and girls who were taught basic education and prayer. Most of the children had English speaking parents who were plantation managers on numerous plantations around Herbertshore (now known as Kokopo).
Also during the pre-war years, a good number of the children attending SHICS were Chinese. They were descendants of peasants recruited by European planters from China to work on their coconut plantations.
In 1942 World War 2 broke out in the Pacific. The Japanese Allied forces completely bombed Vunapope. All the religious workers and some lay workers were kept as prisoners of war at Ramale Camp, 5 kilometres inland from Vunapope. Some Chinese families survived the war by taking refuge with lcoal families in villages behind Vunapope. Familiar names like Sing Wom Ah Sing, Wai Ngok and the Seetos, just to name a few.
In 1945, Bishop Leo Scharmach MSC plus other religious workers and lay workers were released from prison camp. The German brothers at the time had to rebuild most of the infrastructure on Vunapope. This included the sister’s convents, the church, the workshops on the foreshore and of course the school. Most buildings were rebuilt using war time American bunkers retrieved from Jacquinot Bay in Pomio District. Hence one of the oldest buildings that remain at the school is a testimony of the American War bunkers.
The school continued to be a boarding school for boys and girls until 1970 when the boys’ facilities were closed down. The girls’ facilities continued until its closure in 1977. This was 2 years after PNG gained its independence. A lot of expatriate families had to migrate back to their countries after independence.
In the 1980s, an American MSC Sister, Sr. Bernadette Lichmann came to serve as principal. Her deputy, Miss Helena Charlesworth came from Tasmania (Australia) as a missionary volunteer worker. They worked tirelessly to improve the learning of students at the school. At this time the school adopted the NSW and Queensland Curriculum. A good number of students who graduated around these years have continued on to further studies in Australian Tertiary Institutions. Most are happily married and working abroad. Some returned and are running family businesses in Kokopo. They still have fond memories of Sacred Heart International School Vunapope and the strong Catholic culture and bondage with this school.
After the twin volcanic eruptions on 19th September 1994, the school was forced to open its doors for families who were affected by the disaster. Enrolment increased from 120 to 500children. This was an enormous increase in a very short time. The teaching staff were challenged to improve and strengthen school instruction and student behavior due to the enrolment of a high number of non-Catholic students into SHICS.
In the year 2000, the school enrolled its first batch of grade 7 students elevating into Primary School. This was to cater for the increasing number of students in Grade 6. In the same year, the school introduced the PreSchool grade level to cater for the younger children of working parents in Kokopo. The town was growing at a fast pace thus is was quoted in print and digital media as “the fastest growing town in the Pacific”. The pioneer grade 8 students graduated with flying colours in 2001. Interestingly, most of the students in this class continued on to secondary and tertiary institutions. They will no doubt add value to the human resource potential of this nation in the near future.
On the 15th August 2011, Archbishop Francisco Panfilo SDB was installed as the new bishop taking over Emeritus Bishop Karl Hesse MSC. Included in his “Pastoral Plan 2013 – 2017” was to upgrade VIPS to a Permitted Secondary School. Finding the additional teaching staff and new classrooms was a great challenge for the school’s administration. Not to mention the need for teachers accommodation. These challenges are still ahead of the school’s administration today. However, in spite of the setbacks, SHICS was able to produce the first batch of Grade Ten students in 2016. Interestingly they did very well in their final exams topping the East New Britain Province. Unfortunately the school was facing tough financial times, and the Diocese Education Board made a decision to postpone Grade 11 classes to commence in 2018. This means that SHICS needs government and stakeholder support to assist in building much needed infrastructure for the school.
Over the past 22 years after the eruption, the total number of students averages around 600 plus students from appproximately 400 families per year. Students come in from as far as NARI, CCI, UNRE (Vudal), Sikut, Toma, Navunaram, Nangananga, Raluana and Birar and Malakuna in the Cape Gazelle area. The institution is self-accountable and has always been able to sustain itself. This can be attributed to prudent management by the past school Board of Management teams. The positive outcome is the high level of academic results attained by graduates of SHICS over the years. This reflects great commitment and high performance of the teaching staff.
SHICS is by far the oldest school in the New Guinea Islands region and one of the oldest in Papua New Guinea. It continues to operate as a Permitted School under the auspicious of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rabaul. As a Permitted School, SHICS is not eligible to receive government assistance through the current government’s “Tuition Fee Free” policy. This despite the fact that the SHICS administration had worked very hard over the years providing high quality education to Papua New Guineans but receive no recognition if the government of the day. this a dilemma that needs to be addressed proactively, through the Public Private Partnership Concept between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rabaul, the END Provincial Administration, the National Government and other Stakeholder such as Parents and Citizen plus ex-students.