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The Official Opening of Notre Dame Junior School- Monday, 11th May, 2009.
By Gerard Reynolds (Hannah’s Dad)
My daughter had been very excited about the Opening of her school. She was almost breathless with excitement as she informed me that “Mary Hanafin” was going to be there, despite not having the foggiest idea who the Minister was. All parents are invited she announced, and there was tea and cakes afterwards. A government minister opening a block-built school is not something one sees or will see very often, and so I decided attendance was a must. Furthermore how could I refuse such an enthusiastic invitation from my 6-year old?
The day dawned sunny and bright, and the school bunting blew merrily on the railings. The school shone like a new pin. Flowerpots welcomed visitors with bountiful displays of colour, while the windows sparkled and the yard shone. Even the spectacled mole by the door looked especially spruce for the occasion. Inside, the winning cups sparkled in their display cabinet, and every available space was decked with fresh flowers. The walls groaned with artwork and projects ranging from Earth Day to Switzerland to the 1916 Rising. For the more nostalgic visitor, the old Notre Dame Register Book (1953-1969) was displayed for perusal. All of this under the watchful gaze of Euphrasie Barbier, founder of the Notre Dame Missions.
The “Working Open Morning” for prospective new girls leant an air of informality to the school day. Classroom doors were flung open to visitors, with activities open to all. Everyone was on their very best behaviour. Shoes were shining, teeth were gleaming and not a hair was out of place – and that was just the Mummies and Daddies. Prospective parents were escorted around the school, seeing everything from the music room to the emerald green hockey pitch. It was easy to see how impressed they were. In the hall – scene of many an assembly, nativity play, concert and fashion show rehearsal – the tables heaved with sandwiches, scones and buns of every description while the teapots stood by waiting their call to service.
At Mr King’s request that the school be vacated so it could be opened, the girls lined up outside. They wriggled with excitement at the diversion from the usual Monday mornings activities. Rumours that the event would be shown on TV3 news circulated like wildfire, the girls certain of instant celebrity. Lined up, front to back, smallest to tallest, pale blue smocks morphing to grown-up school uniforms at around the P2 mark. Exactly on time, the Minister arrived and stepped right into schoolteacher mode, firing questions out to the throng of beaming girls. The girls answered the questions openly and honestly, something I am guessing Minister Hanafin was not accustomed to seeing in the Dail Chamber. I waited on my turn to announce my age (35 ½) to the Minister, although alas all questions appeared to be reserved for the younger guests. A deliberate political ploy I wonder? Assisted by Lottie from Pre-School and Katie from P6, the Minister cut the ribbon and to great applause declared Notre Dame Junior School open for business. She then undertook a tour of the school, stopping to purchase an ice cream from the Children Helping Children ‘Bizzkids’ project in P5, munching it as she completed her tour. In the meantime the assembled crowd of parents and invited guests were treated to a recital by the award-winning school choir, who took us Somewhere on the Chattanooga Choochoo, complete with actions and sound affects. A sublime performance from the choir, thanks to Miss Liz.
The day closed with an unveiling of the plaque, destined to remain on the wall for years to come, as long as the memories of this lovely day. The pride was etched on every girl’s face, although this was nothing new. We saw it every day as the girls walked into their school, surveying their beautiful surroundings and smiling broadly at their teachers and friends. We saw it at sports days, nativity plays, concerts and on school tours, every day at Notre Dame. They knew they were lucky to attend such a well-equipped, well-run and happy little school, and it showed.
The occasion was a magnificent one for the pupils, teachers and parents of Notre Dame Junior School. Euphrasie Barbier would have been proud.
Notre Dame Junior School officially opened by Minister for Social and Family Affairs
Written by Linda Smith
Notre Dame Junior School in Churchtown, Dublin 14 is a unique success story; this independent private junior school has survived and flourished since the withdrawal of the Religious Congregation and the sale of the School’s Land.
The determined efforts of a group of parents and teachers with the cooperation of the Sisters and the Property Developers involved have seen their diligence and dedication to education coming to fruition this week, as a customised and state of the art school premises was officially opened by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin, TD, today, Monday, 11th May 2009.
Speaking at the official opening, the Minister said “I am delighted to have the opportunity to acknowledge the commitment of such a fantastic community of people to such an excellent project. This indeed is a positive news story” The Chairperson of the School’s Trust, Mr. Mark Mortell, thanked everyone connected to the brilliant initiative and added that it was a pleasure to see all of the hard work reap such a reward. Mr. Mortell credited Junior School vice-principal Miss Gilda Sisk, for persisting and ensuring his involvement in the whole process.
The background to this fantastic achievement lies in the commentary which follows. Great praise and thanks is due to all contributors for which we’ll be eternally grateful.
Announcement of Religious Withdrawal
In April 2002, a shock announcement was made by the Religious Congregation, Our Lady of the Missions (Notre Dame des Missions). This order founded a Secondary and Junior Girls School in 1952 on the current campus in Churchtown. It was expected that both schools would close by 2004 which would involve the loss of 45 teaching posts and 500 student places. The Congregation were to withdraw from education in Ireland, where they would dispose of the Churchtown property and help fund the Order’s decision to concentrate on its core missionary work in the third world and caring for its elderly sisters.
However, following the intervention of a group made up of parents and staff, the then Minister for Education, Dr Michael Woods, TD pledged his support to help the Schools remain open, he said in 2002 “I am determined that Notre Dame remains open as a School. It is a fine educational institution and thousands of women have been educated here in a tradition which extends back for many years. I have established a working party to urgently examine all options by which this school which services a rapidly developing area can be kept open.”
Working Party Established
Between 2002 and 2005, a group led by parents Mark Mortell and Tony Connolly and included representatives of the Parents Association, the School Principals, teachers and the Board of Management were joined by the Sisters and representatives from the Department of Education. This working party’s was asked to explore options to keep both the Junior and Secondary Schools open. So began a long and exhaustive search of options and involved discussions and detailed negotiations with the Congregation, the Archdiocese of Dublin, legal and property advisers and a number of property developers.
Successful Outcome Achieved
This innovative approach succeeded when in 2005 a detailed proposal was prepared by the group representing parents and staff and put to the Sisters. The plan was to see a portion of the site sold to Park Developments and the balance retained so that the Schools could continue to offer education in the Churchtown and Dundrum area. In addition, a new convent for the elderly sisters and a new customised junior school were to be constructed.
Minister Officiates at Transfer into Lay Ownership
In 2005, the then Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, TD, attended a ceremony to mark the official transfer of the Notre Dame Secondary and Junior Schools in Churchtown in Dublin from the religious congregation to a new trust company. Speaking at this ceremony, the Minister for Education welcomed the fact that a new ownership and management structure has been established, she said “This Trust ensures that the Schools will continue to offer education in the area that was experiencing rapid population growth and that the tradition and ethos established by the Notre Dame des Missions Sisters will be continued into the future.”
New Lay Ownership Trust Established
The Notre Dame Schools Trust Limited includes representatives of the parents, former management of the Schools, the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Sisters. Mr Mark Mortell, Chairperson of the Notre Dame Schools Trust explained the role of the Trust; he said “the Notre Dame Schools Trust has been established for the express purpose of managing the Junior and Secondary all girls school. They will continue to operate as Catholic schools and the structure now in place is among the very first examples of schools formerly run by the religious orders transferring to lay ownership yet maintaining the educational and religious ethos established by the former trustees.”
The members of Notre Dame Schools Trust Ltd. are Mr. Mark Mortell, Mr. Tony Connolly, Ms. Jan Nolan, Ms. Una Loftus, Sr. Catherine Corrigan, Rev. Seamus O’Brien and Sr. Corona McGurk.
New School Constructed
In September 2007, building work was concluded on a new Junior School. The Notre Dame campus is now complete which also includes a new all weather hockey pitch.
Thank you all for bringing the project to a successful conclusion.