|( MERCY SISTERS )|
An inspector from the Department of Education visited St. Joseph's Convent of Mercy primary school in Mohill in May, 1949. He praised the excellent work which the Sisters were doing and offered them a new challenge. When he suggested that the sisters might extend their commitment into the provision of secondary schooling for the girls of Mohill and surrounding areas, he could not have anticipated that his idea would find such an immediate response. Spurred on by her own restless energy, and never one to resist a challenge, Sr. Clare Fox set about the task of creating a new school which would become St. Joseph's Secondary Top. Just a few months after the inspector's visit, the dream became a reality with thirteen desks in a room on the premises of the Convent.
Sr. Clare's enthusiasm found ready support in her many talented and hard-working colleagues at St. Anne's Convent of Mercy. Sr. Stanislaus, Sr. Therese, Sr. Aloysius, Sr. Ignatius, Sr. Aquin and Sr. Oliver all contributed to the success of the new school in its fledgling years. Through its first decade of existence, the school gained in popularity and reputation, attracting girls from Mohill, Annaduff, Aughavas, Bornacoola, Cloone, Gortletteragh and Fenagh. Fourteen years after the establishment of the Secondary Top, Sr. Clare took on yet another new challenge when she decided to open her doors to the first group of boys in 1963. In this ground-breaking development, St. Joseph's was years ahead of most other convent secondary schools. This courageous venture into the uncharted waters of mixed education was consolidated by the amalgamation with the Boy's School which had been set up by Fr. Ignatius McLoughlin at Lough Rynn. Fr. Ignatius and his 'Rynn Boys' arrived on the convent campus in 1966.
It was not only among the students body at St. Joseph's that the transition from an all-female institution to a mixed school became apparent. The Sisters were joined in their noble enterprise by many lay-teachers, both male and female. Many of the students who attended in the mid-sixties will remember Mrs. Doyle, who taught French and Geography. Mr. Tony O'Connell became the first male lay-teacher at the school in 1966. It was around this time that the school came to be known as Marian College, although even to the present day a student is likely to be asked whether he or she is 'going to the Convent'. The cohort of lay-teachers at, Marian College grew rapidly in numbers, and while Matt Gaffey and Art Ridge joined Tony O'Connell to build a formidable Galway contingent, the Leitrim flag was kept flying by Anthony Canning, Nancy Donnelly (now McWeeney), Aidan McIntyre and Maura Reynolds (now Farrell). Like most second-level colleges of the time, the school gained considerably from the radical changes introduced under the O'Malley plans in 1967. The 'Yellow Buses' and 'Free Education' opened new opportunities for the young people of Leitrim. It was an exciting time for Sr. Clare and for the staff and students of her beloved school. The little academy that had grown from its makeshift first home in a couple of rooms at the convent, gradually extending to the Lourdes Hall and the first 'Pre- fabs' in the convent garden, found a more permanent campus with the opening of a new School-building by Minister Brian Lenihan in 1969. The then Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Dr. Cathal Daly, blessed the new school which was intended to have a functioning life of around fifteen years.
As the Mercy Sisters in general moved towards a more centralised structure, Marian College was no different from other Mercy schools in experiencing the phenomenon of the 'moving sisters'. New arrivals in the late seventies and early eighties included Sr. Ciaran O'Reilly,
Sr. Maura Conlon and Sr. Mary Reynolds. After the arrival of a new Science teacher, Raymond McHugh, in 1980, the lay staff remained largely unchanged for the rest of that decade - all schools were affected by the economic difficulties of the time. Sr. Goretti's departure for Newtownforbes in 1985 was universally regretted, and marked the end of her short six year tenure as Principal. Sr. Oliver Kelly was a reluctant but nonetheless very popular and effective successor to Sr. Gorretti. She decided to hand over the reins to Sr. Ciaran O'Reilly in 1986. It was especially during the eighties that the school demonstrated its commitment not only to the provision of the standard academic menu, but also to a much broader philosophy of education. Sporting successes on the football fields and basketball courts went hand-in-hand with participation at the highest level in public speaking and debating contests. The 'Fifth Year Concert' became an annual highlight of the school calendar. Towards the end of the decade, a Board of Management replaced the traditional one-person system.
Sr. Ciaran died very suddenly after a brief illness in May, 1990. Her untimely death, like those of so many young past students of the school, was a painful reminder that the story of any such college is a mixture of joy and sorrow.
The nineties brought many changes to Marian College and to the Convent of Mercy. Sr. Clare Fox, who had spent some years in the U.S.A. following her retirement as Principal, was killed tragically in a car accident in Co. Offaly in 1991. Sr. Emmanuel Farrelly came to Mohill as Principal in 1990. She was a committed and resourceful leader in the best traditions of her order and she prepared her school to cope with the many new developments in education. Sadly, her term was cut (short by illness after just four years. It was also a time of transition for the lay staff. Tony O'Connell, who had become the first Vice- Principal in the mid-seventies, returned to his native Galway in 1994. Two other long- standing members of the staff, Jack Beirne and Evelyn Kiernan also retired. If the eighties had seen few staff changes, more recent times have transformed the landscape of the staff-room. The list of names will give some idea of the extent of that transformation, Sisters Catherine Whyte, Una Duffy and Mary Doherty; several new lay teachers like Sheila Reynolds, Mairead Coyne, Elizabeth Hargaden, Dympna Hanly, Mary Quinn, Elizabeth McCann-Flynn, Brendan Fox and Angela Hargaden. Teachers currently employed in a temporary, part-time, substitute or specialist capacity are as follows: Leisha O'Connell, Ursula Creegan, Julie-Ann Smith, Edel Farrell, Lesley Gilheaney, Oona Treanor and Martina McWeeney.
The school could not function effectively without the excellent service of its secretarial and maintenance staff. Mrs. Doreen Honeyman has worked as Secretary with no less than six different Principals, and she is currently sharing her duties with Mrs. Anne Coggins. Kevin Britton is an exemplary caretaker in the service of his old school. Sr. Emmanuel's illness prompted the appointment in 1995 of the first lay-principal, Matt Gaffey. Around the same time, Art Ridge succeeded Tony O'Connell as Vice-Principal. The school adapted to changes in the educational environment by introducing new programmes like Transition Year and L.C.V.P. It appeared that a strong new administrative team would guide the fortunes of the school for many years to come. However, at the time of writing, Matt Gaffey's tenure has been interrupted by illness, and Sr. Helen Keegan is the Acting-Principal. Sr. Helen has taken on the task with the same wholehearted devotion that characterised all her predecessors. The staff and students look forward eagerly to the building of a new school - this project is due to begin during the next year or so. It will be the first. major building project at this site since the construction of the new Library and General Purposes Room in 1984.
Fr. John Kiernan. The other celebrants were Fr. Pat Kiernan and Fr. Cathal Faughnan who have both served as school chaplains, and Canon Sean Rooney. While it was a time for numerous happy recollections, there was also sadness and grief for those who have gone home to the Lord, with so many having been plucked away in the very prime of life. The absent faces of beloved deceased friends, students and staff alike, are a reminder that school should be concerned with so much more than the mere transmission of knowledge.
Someday, a comprehensive history of 'The Convent' Secondary School may be written. For now, we must be content with a summary of some of the highlights of fifty years of a school which grew out of the courageous vision and sense of Christian mission of the Mercy Sisters. That vision welcomed over two thousand students of different religious persuasions into a system of education which strive to do justice to the Christian message. Many of the heroes and heroines of this story must remain nameless, and more than a few have been unintentionally omitted. The Convent-building at St. Anne's may have recently been vacated by the remaining sisters, but the generous spirit that gave true life to that building still lives and breathes in remarkable women like Sr. Therese, Sr. Aloysius, Sr. Martha, and Sr. Aquin, who have all played 'starring roles' in an epic story, and in the younger generation of teaching sisters like Sisters Mary and Nora, who are well capable of keeping the torch alive in these challenging times. Our first and last thoughts today and always are with our deceased former students and teaching colleagues who enriched our lives for a time, and whose memories will always be cherished.
Go dtuga Dia solas na bhFlaitheas doibh go leir agus go dtreorai se ar scoif agus gach a bhaineann lei ar bhealach a leasa i gconai!