St. Mary’s College, Dundalk, Ireland has been celebrating its sesquicentennial. One hundred and fifty years ago the Marists first opened the doors of the school in Dundalk with twenty six pupils enrolled. Today there are six hundred and forty three students and it is still going strong.
We began planning for the celebrations eighteen months beforehand. A committee of staff broke into groups with responsibility for the various aspects such as contacting past pupils and keeping the website updated, producing the commemorative magazine, preparing for the special Masses of celebration, the dinner, the present pupils’ celebrations and the preparation of the school building itself. The school Chaplain, Rosie Reynolds, began collecting prayers for a special prayer book containing the work of students, staff and parents. We had monthly and eventually weekly meetings so we could monitor progress. We had great support from the Board of Management and the Parents’ Council.
It’s amazing to see how all that preparation paid off. The celebrations were a great success. The Prayer Book and the Magazine, the commemorative badges and pens, the dvds of the old photos and the centenary celebrations appeared on time and the school was looking its best or at least as well as a one hundred and fifty year old building can look! September 17th 1861 was the day St. Mary’s College first opened its doors to the young men of Dundalk and beyond. We celebrated a century and a half of Marist education in Ireland in school on Friday, September 16th. Masses were concelebrated in the church by David Corrigan s.m., Regional Superior, and Jimmy McElroy s.m., Chaplain, for students and staff, with music by the recently-formed school choir. Each student received a special commemorative badge as well as a prayer book featuring prayers composed by the school community, students, staff and parents. Due to the bad weather, the new Marist flag could not be raised as planned on the day, but this was done the following week. Many classes featured a quiz on the history of the Marists in Dundalk. (Who paid Lord Roden for the playing fields? How many boarders slept in the present Staffroom?) The day ended with refreshments in each classroom during last class and a homework-free weekend.
PAST-PUPILS’ OPEN DAY
Saturday, October 15th was the day when the school threw open its doors and welcomed back past-pupils old and young. Throughout the day, hundreds of former students revisited their alma mater, remarking on the great changes in some areas and the complete familiarity of others. They came with groups of friends from their year, or on their own, hoping to recognize schoolmates they might not have seen in decades. The archives of the school for each decade were on display in the Hall, with original roll-books, photographs, journals and annuals from every period. It was also a chance to meet teachers again, or even classmateswho had returned to teach in the school. Many of the visitors took the opportunity of a guided tour of the building given by groups of present pupils. Photographs showing the history of the school and generations of its pupils were on display throughout the building. Many of the faces and places reminded the past- pupils of stories from their time in the Marist, some of them printable and some not... Computers, projectors and interactive whiteboards were a sign of the great changes in school facilities, but many still recognised classrooms and corridors from their schooldays – one even found the place he’d carved his name many years ago. A unique aspect of the day was the unveiling of a plaque to ‘Miss.’ Mary Macardle was a teacher in the Marist ‘prep school’ whose former pupils from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s remember her so fondly that they decided to commemorate her with a plaque in her former classroom. The original school bell had recently been unearthed and, after painstaking restoration work by Arthur Kerley, was unveiled and has taken its place in the school entrance hall, on a stand with the names of the original 26 students from 1861 and of the 643 students currently in the college.
CONCELEBRATED ANNIVERSARY MASS, Sunday.
Chief concelebrant of the Anniversary Mass was Cardinal Sean Brady, assisted by three past-pupils, Archbishop Adrian Smith s.m., New Zealand, Bishop Gerard Clifford and John Hannan s.m., Superior General, as well as a large number of Marist priests from Ireland and overseas. The French origins of the Marists were marked by the presence of Her Excellency Mme. Emmanuelle D’Achon, French Ambassador to Ireland. Cardinal Brady remarked that the Marists had left France to come to Dundalk shortly after the Great Famine when they were needed here, and he gave thanks for the huge contribution made by generations of Marist Fathers and teachers. Prayers were said in English, Irish and French by representatives of all members of the school community and music was by the school choir, conducted by Trevor Clarke, with soloist Nicola Mulligan, a past-pupil of the college. The psalm was sung by teacher Ms. Pippa Brady and the Gospel acclamation by student Andrew McKeown. There was a large attendance at the Celebration Dinner later that evening in Ballymascanlon House Hotel, which provided another opportunity for reminiscences and renewing old acquaintances. Apart from the large Irish contingent and two colleagues from a sister school in Germany, the two largest groups came from France and New Zealand. Since the Rugby World Cup final was still a week away, this posed no threat to harmonious relations, and the Ambassador’s diplomatic skills were not called upon.