22 NOVEMBER 2011

I thank the Principal, Ms Cosgrove, and the Board of Governors for the invitation to come here tonight.  I am very pleased to be present on this important occasion in the calendar of the school, but it is a special honour to be present when St Mary’s celebrates the Golden Jubilee of its opening in 1961.  

I congratulate all who receive prizes and awards here tonight.  I know that they are testimony to the hard work which you, the students, have carried out under the excellent direction and guidance of your teachers.  I also congratulate the parents and families of all those who receive prizes and awards here tonight.  Tonight you too are entitled to rejoice and bask in the reflected glory of those receiving prizes.

In my post-primary education, I was a pupil at St Patrick’s College, Cavan.  Like St Mary’s, St Patrick’s Cavan was a single sex Catholic secondary school serving the well-being and development of the boys who were students there.  The older I become and the more I travel, the more thankful I am to my parents and my teachers who made that education possible.  Not everyone got secondary education at that time.  Of course I know that not even today does every child of your age in the world have the opportunity of getting such a wonderful education.  I am glad that so many appreciate the opportunities it provides.
I was really delighted to read, in the literature ,provided to me about St Mary’s, that ever since 1961, the year of its opening, there has been, in St Mary’s High School, a strong emphasis on the care of the pupils in the progressive stage of their spiritual, personal and social development.  

Spiritual, personal and social, that is a delightful summary for me of what every genuine education is all about.  Spiritual is, in the first place, as it should be.  We do not live on bread alone.  We are a combination of body and soul, mind and matter, physical and spiritual.  We are here on this earth, yes, to develop every one of our gifts and talents but to what purpose?  So that we may be good citizens in this life and in the next.

The Gospels these Sundays, as we move towards the end of the year, remind us time and again that death is not the end.  Christ will come again in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.  What will be the acid test?  What will decide whether we will be put among the goats or the sheep?  Actually it will be something very simple.  How did we treat others?  Did we treat them as human persons?  That is why I am delighted to see the emphasis on personal development.

  • Each one of us is a unique human individual.  
  • Each one of us has our own worth and dignity.  
  • Each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God.  
  • Each one of us has been created by God and God does not make junk.

Of course what is true about me, myself, is true of each and every one present in this hall tonight.  We each have our own worth and dignity.  Certain things follow from that.  We all are worthy of respect.  To respect basically means to inspect someone carefully and to see their worth and dignity and to treat them accordingly.

Of course respect begins with oneself.  If I do not respect myself, I can hardly expect others to do so.  If I have not enough respect for myself, it will show in the way I eat and drink and dress.  It will determine my attitude to use and abuse of things like alcohol and drugs, for example.  I am delighted therefore to know that in this school great care and attention is paid to the social development of the pupils.

Last year, many classmates from my days in St Patrick’s College gathered for a celebration in Armagh.  Fellows came from as far away as Galway and Clare.  I thought it was a great tribute to the friendships we formed in those far-off days of 1952-57.  You see, we human beings were all made for friendship.  

It really does not matter how much money we have or how much power or skill we have, if we have not got the basic skills of relating to and getting on peacefully with others.  That ability to make friends is one of the basic foundations for human happiness.

I get the impression that St Mary’s High School is a very welcoming kind of school.  You welcome people with different backgrounds and different abilities.  I noticed the growing number of pupils with English as a foreign language.  It reminded me of the words of last Sunday’s Gospel where the Lord says that when He comes again to judge, He will say, “Come you blessed – for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

I read, with great interest and happiness, your Mission Statement.  You work in collaborating with other educational institutions……  This is essential at all times but really important in a time like this of economic recession.  I am convinced that it is by cooperation and only by working together that we can cope with the sacrifices and cut-backs which the recession is bringing.

The Irish Word “Meitheil” means a group of people coming together to do special work like saving of hay, cutting the turf or reaping the corn.  It has a long and noble history this is no longer the way things are done on the farm.  But the idea of working together to face a big challenge is valid and valuable, especially in a time of recession.

Your Mission Statement also speaks of the partnership between the pupils, teachers, and parents to achieve the best.  Long may that partnership flourish.  I congratulate you being designated a Specialist School in Mathematics and Business and on receiving the Investors in People Awards in 2010.

After I was ordained a priest in 1964, I was appointed to teach in my old school, St Pat’s, Cavan.  What did I teach?  I usually answered, Latin, French and football.  Despite the many humiliating defeats we suffered at the hands of teams from the Abbey and Violet Hill, down through the 13 years I was there, I still regard those years as among the happiest of my life.  They were happy because I knew I was involved in a noble enterprise, the enterprise of preparing people for life, life in this world and in the next world.

I am delighted to be here tonight in St Mary’s High School where I believe that the same noble enterprise is being continued, where pupils are taught to have values and to acquire virtues where you are taught many things but especially you are taught above all the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would wish them to treat you.  I know that happens here because of the important role that Religious education plays here in St Mary’s.  You will always be great if you keep in mind what Mary said to the newly-wed couple in Cana.  “Do what Jesus tells you.”  They did and they did not regret it.

I was in Dublin last Saturday for the Annual Mass organised by the Legion of Mary – in memory of their founder, Frank Duff.  The Legion of Mary is the largest lay organisation in the Catholic Church.  It too has played a big part in the development and happiness of many people in the world and it has helped millions of people in the process.  I know that there are plenty of people here tonight who would get a great fulfilment and happiness in the Legion – if they had the courage to join.  

After the Mass the Palestrina Choir were getting ready for their practice.  They are a group of young singers who sing in the Choir.  The Organist who accompanied them was a young man from Newry.  I certainly got the impression that all of those people were very happy.  It showed me that the possibility for developing your spiritual, personal and social skills does not end when you leave school.

I hope you all find the opportunities that suit you and that you will always be great ambassadors for St Mary’s High School.