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News > ODU Office News > We Celebrate the ODU's 126th Birthday! But where did it all begin? Who were the first ODs?

We Celebrate the ODU's 126th Birthday! But where did it all begin? Who were the first ODs?

"OD's everywhere were intrigued by the suggestion of forming an Old Diocesan Union." 14 April is the ODU's Birthday. From twenty to 6000 members!
The Founders Dining Hall in which the ODU was formed on 14 April 1896
The Founders Dining Hall in which the ODU was formed on 14 April 1896

Today the ODU is a vast organization, that stretches across the corners of the globe.  Not only are there branches in many of the provinces, but also outside the borders of South Africa, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Hong Kong/China/Taiwan, Thailand, S.E. Asia, the U.A.E., the U.K., Scotland, the U.S.A and Zimbabwe.

14 April, is the ODU’s birthday.

According to the author of ‘A Century of Bishops’, Donald MacIntyre, referring to the ODU, ‘its beginnings were humble’.  He writes as follows: ‘On 9 September 1886 four Bishops old boys met in the chambers of W. Syfret for the purpose of forming and Old Boy’s Association.  They were: M. W. Searle, W. Syfret, P. A. Molteno and H. Hull’.

Nothing, however, came of the effort.

Then on 30 January 1895, B. H. Heatlie – the Springbok rugby Captain - convened a meeting to form an OD Rugby Football Club.  J. T. Molteno who was present moved that an ‘Old Diocesan Boys’ Association’ be formed and since the two motions were not in conflict, it was carried. 

As a result, according to MacIntyre, ‘OD’s everywhere were intrigued by the suggestion.’ The 30 January meeting and its outcome precipitated reunions at Oxford on 9 February 1895; at Cambridge on 24 January 1900 (nine ODs sat down to dinner); and in Johannesburg on 24 March 1986.

Then on 14 April 1896 the ODU was inaugurated at a meeting held in the Founders Dining Hall with the Principal, Canon Richard Brooke in the Chair. 

The headline in the school magazine read: 'The Old Boys Union Formed’.  The related article said that about twenty Old Boys were present, including Canon Brooke and Adv. Searle who was voted to the chair.  It was there that Searle remarked: ‘small beginnings have large endings’.  He foresaw that the Union would be a great success. 

It grew at a very fast pace and by 1907, there were 140 members. 

The membership currently stands at approximately 6000.

Today the ODU continues to connect with its members, in various ways such as its Reunions, but also through its website. It publishes a magazine called ‘The Old Diocesan’, now in its 8th Issue.  With the school magazines, a rich history of ODs and their achievements is reflected. 

ODU Chairman, Wilbur van Niekerk (OD) once wrote, which was published previously but which we can again be reminded of: ‘I sometimes wonder how ODs will benefit from our efforts 50 or 100 years from now. While watching the recent interview with Mark Shuttleworth, I was struck by his unique way of viewing the future, where we are dwarfed by history and yet we remain significant because we played a role in its formation. Bishops will be entirely different as a school in 2071 or 2221, as we see by contrast if we cast our minds back to what the school was like in 1961, when Kidd was principal ahead of Mallett's arrival in 1964, and South Africa had become a republic in 1961 after Harold Macmillan's "winds of change" speech. A lot has changed since. It's quite sobering to think that far ahead, and it spurs us on to do what we do now for the benefit of future generations.’

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