Last Friday evening, the community of Scoil Pól Secondary School, Kilfinane celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of the school building.

Celebrations began with concelebrated Mass in St. Andrew’s church where Fr. Michael Hanley officiated as chief celebrant and assisted by priests from all the surrounding parishes. The school choir, led by Elaine Davern, and assisted by staff and past pupils of Scoil Pól, sang a beautiful selection of hymns throughout the Mass.

The Mass began with a welcome from Principal Michael O’ Hara. This was followed by the presentation of symbols introduced by Mrs. Aileen Kelly, Deputy Principal of Scoil Pól. These symbols represented the academic, faith and sporting elements of the daily life in Scoil Pól. A lighted candle representing each of the parishes that students attending Scoil Pól come from was brought forward to the altar by a pupil from these parishes.

Fr. Michael also welcomed the large gathering to St. Andrew’s, commenting on the inclusive sense of community that permeates the school and the real welcome that he feels whenever he visits. Fr. Hanley acknowledged the very important role that the Sisters of St. Paul the Apostle have played in providing education to Kilfinane and its surrounding parishes.

There was a strong community participation in the Mass involving past and present students. For the offertory, the youngest student of Scoil Pól, Mikaela Ryan was accompanied by Ms Nuala Fox, retired deputy principal Scoil Pól in bringing forward the gifts. Members of the Board of Management past and present, former pupils and staff members read the readings and the prayers of the faithful.

Before the final blessing, Fr. Michael invited Sr. Kathleen Neenan to say a few words. Sr. Kathleen was the central driving force behind the dream to build a new school in Kilfinane and spoke with fondness of those, present and deceased, who worked tirelessly to make that dream a reality. Sr. Kathleen went on to recount many of the various fundraising activities that were organised to meet the financial commitments of the plan. The support of the community throughout the years leading up to and since the realisation of our dream has been constant. Without them none of what we have could have been achieved Sr. Kathleen noted.

After the conclusion of the Mass, the entire congregation reassembled in the school hall for refreshments. On arrival at the school, everyone was greeted and welcomed by Scoil Pol head girl, Avril Frewen and head boy, Kevin Hosford, and were guided to prepared seating by the school prefects and student council. After an opportunity to enjoy the refreshments provided, the first of the evenings presentations commenced. Resident artist in Scoil Pól, Mrs. Maura Doherty, had completed two unique art panels depicting the story and ethos of the Sisters of St. Paul in their provision of education to the community. These panels were unveiled by Sr. Kathleen and Sr. Eileen on behalf of the sisters and assisted by Avril Frewen and Kevin Hosford on behalf of the students. A bouquet of flowers was presented to Mrs. Doherty as a token of everyone’s appreciation.

Guest of honour for the night was Gabriel Rosenstock, a native of Kilfinane. Mr. Rosenstock is a noted and respected poet, writer and translator in both Irish and English. He spoke with reverence of the influence that the Sisters had on his love of the Irish language and recited and sung the Brahams Lulaby for the audience. His first experience of the Irish language, was given to him by Sr. Celsius of the Sisters of St. Paul, and it is a love that he has taken with him all over Ireland, Europe and worldwide in his career to date. He described his writings to the gathering and finished by presenting some autographed editions of his accomplished repertoire to Scoil Pól Principal, Michael O’ Hara for the school library.

Another guest on the night was Dr. Eilish Humphries from the Le Cheile trust. Ms Humphries outlined to the gathering how Le Cheile is continuing the educational work started by the Sisters of St. Paul and many other similar religious orders throughout Ireland. “With reducing numbers, it is necessary to come together thus creating strength in numbers and the ability to continue the excellent work started so many years ago” she stated. Dr. Humphries paid tribute to the quality of the building that belies its twenty five year history. Compliments were also passed to the friendly, inclusive atmosphere that permeates the school and to the students that were interacting with the attendance in such a polite, efficient and mannerly way. These sentiments were echoed throughout the room.

A special presentation was made to Sr. Kathleen and Sr. Eileen of replicas of the panels completed by Mrs. Doherty. These panels will serve as a token of thanks for all their work and dedication to generations of students and their continued commitment to those students who will have the good fortune of attending school in Kilfinane for many years to come.

Mr. O’Hara invited everyone to take a walk around the school and to visit the displays in some of the classrooms. These displays portrayed the events surroundings the planning, beginning and building of the school building, of class photographs from 1987 and onwards and various events that took place in the new school since 1987. Also on display were Leaving and Junior Certificate project work in Art and Construction Studies. Such examples of project work are testament to the high standard achieved in Scoil Pól thank you to the dedication of staff and to the emphasis on quality of education that has seen Scoil Pól consistently rated among the top schools in Ireland.

The evening continued for some time as past and present pupils, staff and friends of Scoil Pól took time to reminisce, to catch up and to share stories of their time in Kilfinane and of the successes they have achieved since.

Mr. O’Hara would like to say a sincere thanks to everyone who helped in the preparation and delivery of a fabulous evening in Scoil Pól. “We have an excellent school and staff that is superbly supported by the immediate and surrounding community, without which the school could not grow and prosper. Thank you all” he concluded.