THE HISTORY OF ST. MARY’S
1936 - 2012
It is one hundred and seventy five years since the Sisters of Mercy set foot in Naas and seventy five years since St. Mary’s opened its doors as the first secondary school for girls in the town. The memory of these early days still endures as the story is told and retold. Sr. Malachy Ryan shared her Memoirs in the 1983 Year Book and Sr. Catherine O’Neill gave a brief history of St. Mary’s College in the 1981 Year Book. Sr. Mary Ryan continues the story in the Commemorative Book and Year Book 2010/201 ‘ It is now my task to cast another light on the ‘story’ from the second decade of the millennium as St. Mary’s celebrates its founding year 1936.
The mission of Mercy goes on although with fewer Sisters but with many lay colleagues who continue to educate young women in the ethos and spirit of Catherine Mc Auley. Catherine realised the power and influence of education to change people’s lives for the better. She also recognised that education was a universal right for all, rich and poor, irrespective of race, colour or creed long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
To educate young women was one of the driving, inspiring principles of Catherine Mc Auley. In 1936 St. Mary’s College or Coláiste Naomh Mhuire as it was then officially known started as an ‘A’ school in which all subjects were taught through the medium of Irish. It seems that this approach was not the easiest or the most acceptable for many students or their parents who lived with the area known in former times as ‘The Pale’, so the enterprise of an Irish school was later abandoned. Over the years St. Mary’s had and still has many enthusiastic teachers of Irish.
Sr. Joseph Boyle was the first Principal with an enrolment of 26 pupils and for the next 31 years she was both Principal, Manager and teacher. For many years the school only had 3 teachers with a few part-timers. The curriculum was academic, classical and practical from the beginning. As well as the general subjects, Latin, Home Economics and Commercial subjects with typing were taught – all to serve the needs of the young women and to help them find employment.
St. Mary’s was founded by very courageous Sisters who saw the need, in the absence of any other voluntary secondary education for girls in Newbridge, Clane and Rathcoole at that time. Opening a secondary school in that particular time, 1936, was a formidable task for any community as the country was in the throes of an economic war. Money was extremely scarce, business was at a standstill, only the bare necessities of life were procurable, debts were mounting, industries were non-existent, unemployment then was widespread and a general air of despondency hung over the land.
Sr. Malachy Ryan In her Memoirs of 1981 actually recalls the opening day of St. Mary’s, September 1936, and describes meeting some bewildered students in their new uniforms as they wondered what lay ahead of them in these large classrooms known as St. Aloysius’s. It was not a new school as ‘total lack of funds prohibited the erection of new classrooms or the purchase of new furniture or equipment ‘– this was to be the case for many years to come but still fun, learning and exams took place. Those first students held wonderful memories of those days.
In 1947 Sinead Osborne, a pupil in the school, designed the school badge for St. Mary’s College. The badge was in navy and white enamel and cost 2/6d (half a crown). The word ‘Veritas’ was chosen with great care. The virtue of truth was instilled in all the students. The uniform was a navy gymslip, navy jumper with red cuffs and collar, worn in winter. In summer the students wore a white blouse, red tie and red sash, black shoes and stockings, navy gabardine coat and navy beret.
It was in 1953 that the Sisters purchased the adjoining farmland with its picturesque thatched cottage, called ‘Abbeyfield’. This was to become the first designated school from 1954 – 1964.It consisted of six classrooms, a small staffroom, as well as a kitchen which the girls used as a lunch room. From this time onwards the Christmas play or concert was an annual occurance. Sport took on added importance and camogie was the first game to be played in an organised manner. Abbeyfield had beautiful trees and surroundings and is now the land on which the present St. Mary’s buildings stand and on which tennis courts, playing pitches and astro-turf developments have taken place in more recent years
In 1954, the Statue of Our Lady of Banneux N.D. Belgium/The Virgin of the Poor, on the school grounds was given as a gift to St. Mary’s College by Madame de Tuite.
Between the 15thJanuary and 2nd March 1933, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared eight times at Bannuex N.D. to Mariette Beco, a girl eleven years old, the eldest child of a poor family of seven children. During the apparitions, Our Lady called herself ‘Virgin of the Poor’. She asked for a small chapel and a few months later the chapel was built and opened for worship. She showed the girl a spring and said it was reserved for all nations, and that she was coming to heal the sick and to relieve sufferings. Since then a great many sick have been cured by the intercession of the Virgin of the Poor and all kinds of suffering relieved.’ Pray much, pray much, pray very much.’
In response to growing numbers, a new block of classrooms was completed in 1964, called the ‘Boyle’ building.(This building was called after Sr. Joseph Boyle, founder of St. Mary’s). It consisted of six general classrooms, a combined kitchen/sewing room and staffroom. This block was built, without any State help, by the Sisters of Mercy together with the generosity of the people of Naas and its surrounding catchment areas and the Past Pupils Association.
There were no indoor sport’s facilities for the girls until 1971 when ‘sports hall’ was built. This building consisted of Hall, and Canteen facilities. It is called ‘The Assembly Hall to-day.
Sr. Catherine O’Neill became Principal in 1975 and she was succeeded in 1976 by Sr. Mary Ryan. At that time there were twenty six full time and four part-time teachers. The school had approximately 300 pupils in total and the following year groupings existed – 1st years, 3rdyears, 4th years, 5th years and 6th years.
Following the introduction of the Free Education Scheme in 1966 student numbers increased and new buildings mushroomed. The 1970’s may well be called the ‘pre-fab’ era because, due to lack of space for growing numbers, a great percentage of the classrooms were accommodated in prefabs. At one time there were at least 14 pre-fab classrooms scattered in every corner of open space.
The 80’s, 90’ and naughties have seen phenomenal growth in solid classroom blocks. The ‘Mercy’ building was opened in 1981, with science rooms, music rooms, art rooms, Library, assembly hall, gymnasium, administration areas, as well as a prayer room and new staff room to accommodate the growing numbers of staff.
Sr. Brigid Tierney was Principal from 1982 -1983 while Sr. Mary Ryan was on career break.
Then in 1987 Sr. Anne Doyle became Principal for the next ten years. During that time, due to expanding numbers , the ‘Abbeyfield’ block of four classrooms and toilets was opened.
St. Mary’s Sports Hall to accommodate basketball, badminton, volleyball and all PE classes was opened in 1993 by Sr. Brigid Tierney, Mother General of the Mercy order in Kildare & Leighlin, and a past pupil of St. Mary’s College.
In 1997 Marie O’Neill, a teacher in the school, was appointed the first lay principal of St. Mary’s College.
The present 5th year and 6th year classroom areas along with two science rooms, 2 computer rooms, a technology room, year head offices and resource rooms came on stream in 2001. This building is called ‘ Catherine Mc Auley House’ and was officially opened by Sr. Helena O’Donoghue, Provincial of the South Central Mercy order and a past pupil of St. Mary’s College.
2006 saw the completion of a further extension consisting of three classrooms, an art room, a staff room, and a staffwork room. This extension is a continuatiuon of the ‘Mercy’ building and it was officially opened by Mary Hannifin, Minister for Education & Science.
With over 900 students on roll there was a need for better sports facilities and so in 2008 the Astro-turf pitches and playing grounds were developed and officially opened by Eamonn Coughlan on land kindly donated by Sisters of Mercy.
In 2011 St. Mary’s College celebrated its 75th Jubilee. There are many Jubilee reminders , eg.
On the grounds, ‘Set to Rise’ is a stone carving by Bríd Óg Norby, past pupil, inspired by the mission statement of St. Mary’s College. It consists of a tri-form of carved Irish limestone and arches of stainless steel rods set in a circular formation. The tri-form represents the Holy Trinity and therefore a school which is rooted in the Christian tradition. The stone pieces arch out of the ground and rise upwards. Steel rods supported by the stone, follow the curve skywards. These rods represent the students striving to develop to their full potential in the supportive environment of the school. The four rods from each stone converge at the top to reflect the interconnectedness of life and the school as a community. It shows how each student is dependent on her fellow students and teachers during their school life. The rods then separate and continue on their own course to represent the individuality of each student and the different paths they will take in life. The main concept behind this structure is that a holistic education rooted in the Christian tradition is a firm foundation for life. It raises up the students and allows them to reach for great heights and to engage with the questions and struggles of our time.
‘Inside /Out’ is another 75th Jubilee reminder. This Artwork in the main stairwell finds its inspiration in the idea of growth, education, and how through the seasons and months, both are ever changing and intertwined. The Painting/Collages are loosely based on the months and seasons of the year. They begin with Autumn, the start of the academic calendar and work their way up the stairs towards Winter. Each image explores a little world of uniqueness, much like all the girls who will pass and have passed through St. Mary’s doors. Depending on how the light falls on the artwork throughout the day they can be viewed as portals to the outside world brought inside.The visual dominance of the circular stencil in the stairwell links the space together. The colours are connected using a strong graphic motif which reflects the light from outside and casts a strong shadow around the stairwell, moving from painting to painting throughout the day, reflecting and offering a completeness through education, personal growth, and friendship. Artist Susan Connolly, Past Pupil.
The Commemorative Book and Yearbook 2010/2011. Arthur Burke, Editor and past teacher of St. Mary’s College, writes ‘It is a privilege to be asked to edit this book which celebrated 75 wonderful years from the beginnings in 1936 to to-day’. (Some copies available in school.)
The Rugcraft Wall Hanging on display in the Trophy Cabinet was designed and worked on by each member of the school Community.
The Jubilee logo designed by Rebecca Lowe, a sixth year student in St. Mary’s College, tells its own story.
Another treasured jubilee memory is the arrival of the Students and parents from Little Rock, Mount St. Mary’s Academy, Arkansas who reversed the steps of Sr. Mary Theresa Farrell, Mercy Sister, who left Naas in 1850 with eight Sisters to set up Convent and school in Arkansas and begin spreading the vision of Catherine Mc Auley worldwide. Sister Debbie from Little Rock Mercy Community in her address said that Irish/US relationships have always been exceptionally close. They presented the school with a wall hanging – the image of the tree represents the growing connections St. Mary’s College has with schools from all around the world.
‘The Road I’m Travelling’ - a beautiful collection of 75 students who attended St. Mary’s College down through the years tells the story of what they have been doing since they left school.
In 2012 when Marie O’Neill retired as Principal Rita Mc Cabe was appointed to succeed her.
Together with all these changes and developments - the choice of subjects has expanded, new programmes for Junior Cert, Leaving Cert and Transition year have developed. The technological age has come to St. Mary’s with computers, laptops, video and media equipment to prepare students for the Information Age and the knowledge-based society in which they live out their working lives. The Spirit of Mercy flourishes in St. Mary’s College