Glimpses From the Convent Archives 1909-1982
Catherine Mc Auley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, placed great value on the role of education. In the Ireland of the early 1800s young women were often uneducated and were particularly at risk when they came to the larger towns and cities to work as domestic servants in the houses of the gentry. Catherine understood that education was the best way means of changing people’s lives. She went to France to observe methods being used there and then started her school for poor children in Baggot St. in 1827. Flowing from this Charism of Mercy, The Congregation of The Sisters of Mercy , set up school and were involved in education in almost every parish to which they were invited. The Belturbet story was no different.
At first the Sisters of Mercy taught in a primary school which was situated beside the old St. Mary’s Church ( Railway Road). Then in 1876, they moved from their first house in Deanery St. to a larger house in Bridge St. Here they converted two outhouses into a school consisting of two large and two smaller classrooms. This school served the children of the town until 1909, when it was replaced by the present school building. Now we are proudly celebrating the achievements of teachers and pupils of the school over the past one hundred years.
When the Sisters of Mercy established a convent, one of them usually undertook the task “of keeping the annals”. This was a diary in which they recorded events and occasions that impacted on the lives of the Sisters and the lives of the local people. The annals I’m using dates from 1909 -1982 and were written by Mother Joseph Mary Berry until 1975 when Mother Felim became the annalist.( Later on in the eighties and nineties Srs. Finbarr and Clare kept the annals, but I did not research these later annals as I presume that many other contributors to this magazine will have memories from these times.) Because several of the Sisters of Mercy were involved in teaching , there are very many references in the annals to the school. I have made a selection from these enteries and grouped them under the following headings: Religious events, Music drama and culture, Inspectors visits, Local happenings. I now invite, you to experience the school story from these handwritten pages of history.
The first entry of the children’s involvement in a religious event comes in the 1938 annals:
On the feast of Corpus Christi, 16th June 1938, there was a procession of The Blessed Sacrament for the first time in this parish. About 10.30 a few stewards including Sean Mc Govern, Jimmy Gillic and Mr. Mc Kenna came and arranged everything. …there was a Guard of Honour, Boy Scouts and children dressed in white with wreaths and veils. The day was beautifully fine and the procession was a great success.
Confirmation and First Communion days were very special days and are referred to several times in the annals.
We read :
Confirmation was given on 25th April 1940 by Dr. Lyons. There was between 70 and 80 children, eighteen from our school. No child under nine years of age got a ticket. The children sang the Mass and Sr. M Angela played for them.
A later entry states:
On Tuesday 7th April Confirmation was administered to 170 children. Mass was at 11.30and we went over at 11.20 and got home at 1.30. It was beautiful.there were 14 priests. Mrs Mc Govern played the organ and the children sang (in their places down in the church) Sacerdos, Veni Creator, Tantum Ergo and Faith of Our Fathers. …. The bishop preached both fro the altar and the pulpit.
Most people who attended the school until the early seventies remember how special breakfast in the laundry was!
……. Sixteen little children received their First Holy Communion on Saturday 18th may 1940. They got their breakfast in the school kitchen and ran about the garden afterwards.
1942 brings the first reference to the fondly recalled “laundry breakfast” when the annals states:
On Saturday eve of Pentecost, 23rd may 1942 24 little children received their First Holy Communion. Dorothy Fay, Deirdre Steenson, Gertie Kiernan, Mickey Rogers ands Bosco Moynihan were among them. They got breakfast in the laundry. As it was a very wet day they could not run in the garden but danced and played games in the laundry.
The recent emphasis on the role of parents in First Communion is not as new as we thought! But then, as the Book of Ecclesiasticus says “there is nothing new under the sun”! and the annals for 1966 tells us that:
On Trinity Sunday, 5th June 22 children received their First Holy Communion at a special Mass at 9. 30 said by Fr. Morris. This year a new custom was introduced (which has been the custom in Dublin, Belfast, England and Scotland for years) each child was accompanied by her parents to the altar rails and they received Holy Communion. After Mass, there was a photograph taken and the children came to the convent (laundry?) for breakfast and played in the garden as usual.
The Annals give us good descriptions of pilgrimages, procession and other events that the children took part in down the years.
On Sunday 29th September 1949, there was an international (national?) Children’s pilgrimage to Knock and our children went for the first time. They had a special bus and 33 children and 12 adults went in it: Srs. M Felim and Finbarr, Mrs Casey, Mrs Sean mc Govern, Mrs Dr. Stuart, Cissie Gillic Cissie Small (Legionaries of Mary) and cecil and Mrs Stewart, Mrs Kenna and Mr. Tully.they reached Knock at 12 O’ Clock in time for a Missa Cantate. There were 25,000 children there from all parts of Ireland. The children brought sandwiches and tea, sugar milk and cups adnthey got tea made in the hostel and took their lunch sitting on the grass. The weather was beautiful. The nuns got dinner in the hostel. ….. They arrived home about 9.45.
During the Marian year 1954 we read that:
On Sunday 9th May, two bus loads of children went to Knock at 8’O clock and came home at 10.30 pm. As it was the Marian year, five nuns Srs. M Finbarr, Clare, Rosarii, Agnes and Julianna accompanied them.
An other entry informs us that:
A very important event took place in Belturbet on Ascension Thursday 27th May 1954. The Bishop, Dr. Austin Quinn, dug the first sod for the new church. …. At 4 o’ clock over 2000 marched in procession from the old church to the site of the new one. There were 100 children of Mary wearing blue cloaks and white veils and hundreds of children from the six schools in the parish. They carried banners and a beautifully decorated statue of Our Lady and sang hymns en route.
From the 1958 Annals we read about one of many processions described over the years.
On 11th February, feast of the Apparition of Lourdes, at 11.30 the school children, each carrying a lighted candle marched in procession from the school to the Grotto in the garden. They said the Rosary and sang hymns. Some of the nuns accompanied them.
A 1961 entry tells us that:
On Monday 15th June there was a special Dialogue Mass for the children at 10 o’ clock and there were crowds of children at it. It was in honour of the Patrician year. They sang the hymn “Hail Glorious St. Patrick.
The first record of Mass being celebrated in the school appears on 27th June1980. It reads:
Mass was celebrated for the first time ever in our Convent School. Only the senior girls were present. Sr. M. Finbarr prepared the liturgy. The children actively participated in the Mass, reading the lessons, saying the bidding prayers, bringing up the gifts and singing hymns. Fr.John Maguire was the celebrant.
The development of a Folk Choir in the wake of Pope John Paul’s visit involved many of the children. We read that in 1982, during Laity Week,
A youth Mass in the Parish Church was well attended by the children of Belturbet and Staghall. Music for the hymns was supplied by Srs, Declan and Rita and Joanne Mc Elgunn on guitars. Jackie Bannon sang the Responsorial Psalm. Gifts were brought to the altar by six sets of children. The local children’s band played “ Amazing Grace” after Holy Communion.