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What is the Old Diocesans Union?

The Old Diocesans Union (ODU) has over 8,000 members and 29 Branches spread throughout the world. Communications are highly networked and there are a multitude of social media platforms.

Activities include Class Reunions; Mentorship programmes; Events; Bishops Community Week and Founder’s Day; liaison with other Alumni Associations and a close working relationship with the School Executive; the Parents Association (both Prep and College) and The Friends of Bishops.  

A history of the Old Diocesans Union (the Alumni Association of Bishops)

In 1896, forty-seven years after Diocesan College (Bishops) was founded, the Old Diocesans Union was formed.

Prior to that, an OD Rugby Club had been established and informal Old Boys Dinners had taken place, both at Bishops and in Johannesburg, where a ‘branch’ of the OD Union was formed a month before the OD Union itself was constituted in April 1896.

The Early Objectives

The early objectives of the Union were ‘a bursary or building fund, a register of ODs and a common annual day’. In 1897 ‘Foundation Day’ dinners were held in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Kimberley on 15th March – the actual date in 1849 on which Bishops had opened its doors in Maynier’s Cottage, Bishopscourt. 

By 1907 there were 140 members of the OD Union. Life Membership was introduced in 1920 and the subscription for this was a princely £7 10s!

The first fundraising was for the ‘Bishops’ War Memorial and Development Fund - the target was £12,000 and later increased to £30,000. 

Subsequent fund raising was the Centenary Fund in 1949 and then in the 1970s, legendary Preparatory Schoolmaster John Charlton led a further fund raising.

Administering the ODU - Honorary Secretaries

There had been several Honorary Secretaries before the appointment, in 1908, of Frank Reid, then aged 23, who had been one of the two original and pre-war Rhodes Scholars. 

In his 47 years as Honorary Secretary, Frank Reid developed the worldwide concept of the OD Union, increased the membership total significantly, compiled an astonishing record-system of ODs long before the days of computers and databases, and greatly expanded the OD Notes in the College Magazine, especially during the two World Wars, when his letters from the front made compelling and moving reading.

Frank Reid had worked from home and on his retirement in 1954 an office for the new secretary, Owen Owen-Smith, OD, was provided in School House and the post became ‘an exceedingly modestly remunerated appointment’, more in the nature of an honorarium.

In 1964 the OD Office moved to the new Administration Block, and in January 2001 the Union moved to OD Offices and a Committee Room in part of the old Sanatorium Building at the far end of the Avenue. 

Secretaries since Owen-Smith have been Gilbert Hunneyball (ex-Vice-Principal of Bishops), George Hodgson, Herby Selfe, Brian Bamford, Brian de Kock and Tim Hamilton-Smith.

The major focus of the Secretaries was editing the OD Notes in the quarterly Bishops magazine, networking, organising the annual Founders Day sports events against the school including the OD Dinner, providing tours of the campus and attending Branch dinners.

1994 Hails the Start of a New Era

Post 1994 and the advent of democracy in South Africa, Bishops started to transform from a school based on British principles, to one more representative of the country. 

The school, its pupils and staff started to change and in response to this the OD Union has also changed.

2019 saw the first ODU committee more representative of this change with Wilbur van Niekerk being elected Chairman and two members of colour being elected to the committee.

Prior to this had been the formation of the BODs (Black ODs) and YODs (Young ODs) - these groupings have now been incorporated into the main body of the Union.

Concurrent with these changes, and with the school literally bursting at its seams, a new dedicated OD Office was built in 2014 and inaugurated in 2015, next to the Avenue rugby field and the Woodlands Hockey Pavilion.

Named The Mitre, it comprises a dedicated Committee room; entertainment area and offices. It is a modern purpose built facility, worthy of one of the country’s leading Alumni Associations.

The ODU Office

Welcome to the Old Diocesan Union, where past students (called ODs) of the Diocesan College and the Diocesan Preparatory and Pre-Preparatory Schools, keep in touch with each other and stay connected to the life of their beloved school.

The OD Union strives to maintain and enable friendship between ODs (through reunions and events), provide support for its members where practical (e.g. networking, mentorship, financial academic assistance) and to showcase news of ODs activities and impact around the world.

“Being an OD is a journey. It starts the moment we begin at Bishops. While we may only have been at the school for a short period of our lives, the school is forever part of us. As a result, your Union is peopled by great characters, thinkers, opinion-makers, public figures and leaders. Because of our members, the ODU is a resourceful, resilient and influential organisation.”

[Bruce Jack, a previous Chairman of the ODU]

The Mitre is the home of the ODU. It is situated next to the hockey astro and you are welcome to visit us. We do ask that you just let us know in advance should you want to pop in (an email to [email protected] will be great.)

Parents and friends are welcome to come and have a morning coffee (Zee is the Barista) in the Mitre Lounge every school day morning from 7:30 to 9:30.

ODs can also book the Mitre boardroom or lounge for meetings or events if they contact the OD Office at [email protected] in good time as we have a number of events happening every week.

The Mitre is also home of the Museum and archives. Should you want to visit the museum, please contact the office to make an appointment.

The Mitre home of the ODU
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