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; The Invest In our Future Foundation (IIOFF) 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-six 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.
More recently, WP van Zyl held the reins as the OD Executive Manager, before leaving in 2019. The post has remained vacant for the last few years as the OD Committee has adopted a more hands-on role guiding the ODU through some financial and social challenges.
The Union is now on a firm financial footing. An adapted role of the OD Secretary has been developed and the position will continue with a new appointment.
Looking to the Future
In 2020, the ODU embarked on a new initiative, the Invest in Our Future Foundation which raises funds for ODs who wish to undertake tertiary education and other activities which demand capital and financial assistance.
This is one of the key building blocks in the overall transformation of the school and consequently the ODU, to meet the challenges of a changing South Africa.
In partnership with Citadel, the ODU is currently building the Invest In Our Future Foundation (IIOFF) which invests in the education of our youth.
The Old Diocesan Union (ODU) would like to welcome everyone, who is part of the Bishops family, to the school and broader community.