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The earth-toned main building was built in the ‘Italianate’ style

If you find yourself on main Shahrah-e-Iraq, look east. Through the din and smog that defines the heart of Saddar, the horizon offers an incongruous sight; St Patrick’s Cathedral flanked on one side by the sprawling yet serene campus of St Joseph’s Convent School (SJC).

Educating women for over 150 years… SJC was founded in 1862 by Monsignor Steins, the Vicar Apostolic of Bombay and five Sisters of the Cross who came to Karachi from Belgium for missionary work. The school has educated thousands of prominent Pakistani women ever since, including Uzma Aslam Khan, Dr Hamida Khuhro, Maria B, Marvi Memon, Mehreen Jabbar, Sania Saeed, Maliha Lodhi, and Zubeida Mustafa.

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Discussing a project with the team

A serene campus… The campus consists of several buildings, of which the most imposing is the earth-toned Main Building, believed to be designed by an Italian architect called Father Pagani in the ‘Italianate’ style, complete with arches and columns. Several classrooms and hallways are located on the ground floor, while a small chapel and the nuns’ living area is on the first floor. Equally impressive is the Hall where school concerts are held, and where the chemistry laboratories are located. Two of the most popular venues for schoolgirls during recess are the famous Abdullah’s Canteen and the courtyard that overlooks the Principal’s Office. A statue of the Virgin Mary (called the Grotto) stands near the Canteen. Classes are also held in Lourdes House. A garden complete with a gazebo runs along the length of this building.

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A typical classroom at St Joseph’s

No boys allowed… Rules have always been strictly followed at the Convent, and no boys are allowed inside. Therefore, the Convent’s blue gate remains a popular spot for boys from nearby schools (including St Patrick’s and St Paul’s) to hang out in the hope of attracting some doe-eyed attention.

Surrounded by Saddar… Just outside the campus lies the chaotic commercial world of Saddar. Across the road from the Convent is Burhani Book Stall, useful for photocopies and stationery, while for chaat there is the ‘tuck shop’ next door. Further down is the narrow Bhicaji Street, where several stores are located, at the end of which stands The Goan Union Hall – Karachi’s answer to New York’s FlatIronBuilding.

In a nutshell… Having functioned for over 150 years, the SJC is not just a school – it is an institution in its own right, and one of Karachi’s most beloved landmarks.

– Faiza Shah

First published in the Real Estate Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 3, 2013.

Photographs by Tahir Jamal/White Star.