WATCH: Loreto College senior prizegiving

Year 14 subject award prizewinners at Loreto College Senior Prizegiving.
Year 14 subject award prizewinners at Loreto College Senior Prizegiving.

The annual Senior Prizegiving was held at Loreto College Coleraine on the evening of September 14.

The Prizegiving celebrates the academic, extra-curricular, personal and inter-personal achievements and excellence of the College’s Senior students, and was an opportunity to welcome back some of the Year 14 students of 2017 to celebrate their outstanding results in the recent A Level examinations.

The guest speaker at the Prizegiving was Sister Rosemary Gallagher IBVM. A native of Omagh, Sr Rosemary joined the Loreto Order in 1963.  She has worked in Dublin, Omagh, Letterkenny, Balbriggan, Mauritius, and joined the staff un Loreto College Coleraine in 1991, retiring in 2007.  She is currently working as part of the Chaplaincy Team in the Causeway Hospital and has been working for short periods over the past three years in the Loreto Mission in Rumbek in South Sudan.

Addressing the capacity audience, Sister Rosemary said: “It is a privilege to be asked to address you tonight. This is a night that for many of you marks a transition...a transition from school to the world of third level education, a transition from G.C.S.E to AS, or from AS to your final year in Loreto.

“Transitions are always challenging and demanding because the future has so many unknowns but they are also exciting and dare I say when we read the great stories of the Bible God seems to love transitions. Abraham, Moses, Jacob were all challenged to make transitions into the unknown when their only certainty was the assurance that ‘the God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in mercy’ would be

with them.

“I have lived though many transitions in my life—they were always challenging sometimes painful but the one certainty that I can see as I look back and reflect on life was that through all the highs and lows God is a God who is ‘with us’

“During my years working here in the Religious Education Department the question I was most frequently asked was ‘Why did you become a nun? How did you know?’

“Well, that story began when I was coming to the stage in my life that many of you are now facing the inevitable transition of leaving school and choosing a career. I felt in a somewhat vague way that I would like to teach but at other times I thought no perhaps nursing… teaching was not an obvious choice. On the Easter Sunday evening of that year I was passing by the parish church and just popped in.

“I am a native of Omagh and the Sacred Heart church is truly a beautiful church. Behind the altar there is a magnificent stain glass window which faces west so the rays of the setting sun light it up showing its full glory. The smell of incense from the celebration of the Easter liturgy still lingered in the church and the Paschal candle surrounded by white lilies were bathed in the rays of light from the window. As you know when the priest blesses the Pascal candle, he says ‘Christ yesterday, today and the same forever’ those words suddenly came alive for me and a certitude and a joy filled me in a manner that I had never experienced before and I have never forgotten since.

“A deep conviction of the truth that Jesus is alive, Jesus is here, Jesus is with me.’ filled me with such certitude that I knew without a shadow of doubt that I wanted to give my life totally to Him. That experience was 56 years ago and it is still as fresh in my heart as it was that Easter Sunday evening. That conviction of Jesus being someone alive and someone who could give a whole sense of meaning and enthusiasm to life has coloured my life. As for anyone, there have been moments of doubt and darkness moments when I felt angry with God and I wrestled to find meaning and struggled to keep going yet deep down there was always that sense of a God, who, even in the midst of deepest darkness was a rock to cling to when there seemed no way out.

“As a Loreto Sister I have worked in different places at home and abroad and from 1991 until 2007 I had the joy of working here in Loreto Coleraine. It was a good place to work and I enjoyed it. The students were enthusiastic, challenging and at times may be a bit too exuberant. The chicken run and the occasional pond ducking were events... do these things happen now? It was a great staff to be part of where, commitment, caring and support were the hallmark.

“Coming to retirement was another transition and I was blessed when the role of Hospital Chaplain opened up for me. Being with people at vulnerable moments in their life such as sickness is indeed a special honour. So when I look back at these many and varied transitions I feel very blessed. Yes, there are things I regret doing or not doing’ things I wish I had done differently, moments when I came face to face with the painful reality of my own frailty and sinfulness and like St Paul ‘I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.’Roms7:19

“Strange to say this is the second graduation ceremony that I have attended this year. The other was in Rumbek in South Sudan where I have spent time these past three years. South Sudan is a country of famine and tribal warfare. Every pupil in the school has been marred by trauma. The miracle of the school is that while the girls’ tribes and clans within the tribes are fighting with one and other outside inside school the girls live in peace and harmony. This harmony is nurtured by a family system within the school in which first year students are considered daughters, second year students mothers, third year students, grandmothers and fourth year girls great grandparents.

“Each family has girls from different tribes. They initiate each other into school life. The older ones advise the younger ones on all the normal challenges of school life. The system is designed for girls with no suitable role models at home. These girls are the first in their families to come to school so they don’t have older people in their families to advise them. The family system in the school gives them the

nurture that they might not otherwise get. In a country where girls face a bride price of several dozen cows the majority of the students face strong pressure to get married.

“In fact a fifteen-year- old girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete secondary education. Those who do manage to stay are the survivors, they have defeated the uncertainty of war many of their families have been displaced and when they return to school after holidays bring a bag with little bits and pieces to be kept for them as the family can no longer live in a particular place that had been home. They have managed to survive all the childhood illnesses that claim so many young lives in South Sudan and they have managed to win the battle to stay at school. At the end of the holidays there are always some among them who do not return because the cows have been exchanged and they are married off. It is always sad and quite traumatic when the pupils and teachers hear the stories of girls who can no longer hope to finish school.

“When you engage in girl child education in a country like South Sudan where 50% are married before they are 18 everything, only 2% go to secondary school and only 15% complete primary school everything you do is subversive. Telling parents that girls have a better future if they are educated is counter cultural and a lot of people are not happy with this challenge. While they know the cost the students themselves are determined to be Mary Ward women, women of vision and determination knowing that they can make a difference. Like these young women you too face the challenge of walking the path that Mary Ward summed up in those words that have marked your years in Loreto Coleraine: SINCERITY, JUSTICE, FREEDOM, JOY

“Be people who are Sincere genuine in your struggle to find yourselves and live your goals. To quote Mary Ward ‘Show yourself as you are and be what you appear.’ Be people who seek Justice especially for those whom the powerful systems of our world crush through greed and corruption. This is the real challenge of our age where consumerism results in 20% of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive. The children in the Primary in Rumbek South Sudan only eat the one meal they get in school. Families eat 3 times a week only those in very fortunate circumstances eat every day.

“Set yourselves the challenge of avoiding waste when you go to student halls or rented accommodation. Pope Francis reminds us ‘Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.’

“Spread Joy. Remember that saying of Mary Ward ‘Show yourself at all times glad and joyful for Almighty God love a cheerful giver.’ Every day the media makes us aware of how much suffering there is but a smile a kind word or a word of appreciation can send out a ripple of joy that picks up momentum and can make a real difference to someone’s life.

“Every night before you go to bed take a few minutes to look back over your day. Find three things in the day that gave you a little nugget of joy, just simple things like a nice coffee or meeting someone or a good mark for an essay.... whatever, but just thank God for them. You will sleep better and noticing little joys in life makes for a happy person.

“Above all treasure Truth that truth that Jesus came to tell us that to His Father God you are precious and he loves you. And that love is unchanging, unending all-embracing everlasting. So before you get out of bed in the morning imagine Jesus standing at the foot of your bed saying ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you. I love you and have carved your name on the palm of my hand,’ 365 times in Scripture.

“So appreciate life, love life, and be thankful for life and above all celebrate life with joy. God bless you all.”

Welcoming guests to the Prizegiving, Mr Michael James, Principal of Loreto College, thanked Sister Rosemary for this very inspiring address, and said: “You are all very welcome to our Senior Prize-giving as we look back at another very busy and successful year for Loreto College, although unfortunately another year touched with sadness. Whilst preparing for Christmas Tests last year, the whole school community was shocked by the tragic and untimely death of year 10 pupil, Reece Meenan.

“And whether as a close friend, a pupil, a staff member or parent, we were all touched in some way by his death. We still struggle to fully understand this loss of life, but are grateful that we were enriched in some way by Reece’s presence in our lives and we continue to keep him, his family and his friends in our thoughts and prayers. In the midst of the sadness felt by our extended community, I was again very heartened by the response and the genuine sense of togetherness that developed amongst everyone -pupils and staff alike. As ever, their humanity and support for each other left me humbled and filled with admiration.

“Sr Rosemary in her address has spoken about transition and over the last few years Loreto College has been in transition. We now have five year groups admitted without using academic selection and from the start of this year we have an expanded Y8 cohort, St Joseph’s College has begun a phased closure and Dominican College have begun their move away from academic selection. As we stand on the threshold of a new era in education in the Coleraine area, it is right to stop and ponder what we want our school to achieve and deliver for our students.

“Our increased enrolment provides an opportunity to deliver a broader curriculum, designed to meet the needs of all students, focussing on educating the individual and allowing each person to achieve excellence according to their own standards. However, it needs financial support from the Department of Education to ensure its success. With this support, I have every confidence that we will continue to offer a wide variety of opportunities and a first-class education to all pupils who come to us, as well as having an opportunity to

educate more students to share in our traditional Loreto values.

“In June this year, I watched a trailer for a TV programme telling the story of a young female engineer during the second world war. As the Battle of Britain raged in the summer of 1940, a fatal flaw was discovered in the engines used in the Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes. When they dived, the engines would often flood and cut out - a pilot’s worst nightmare in a dogfight. The solution was found by Beatrice Shilling, a young engineer in what was then very much a man’s world. In fact, women were so under-represented at the time that her

student record card did not even have female titles as an option and she was entered in the official records as Mr Beatrice Shilling – no allowance had been made to include woman in the faculty as women were not expected to become engineers (in fact there may have been many who thought woman just shouldn’t be engineers). But enterprising woman like Beatrice Shilling, in the same manner as our own foundress Mary Ward, did not accept these limits and believed that they could achieve and perform as well as anyone else, in whatever field they chose. And so, drawing on the inspiration of these individuals, we want to ensure that our transition to greater educational inclusion is smooth and successful, reflecting our Loreto values and our belief in educating the whole person and providing access to a Loreto education for everyone.

“Transition or change at any time is difficult, but in an era of financial austerity and political uncertainty it becomes even more difficult. The recent lack of political progress here means that teachers remain without any pay rise for many years and morale is understandably low. Teaching unions are all in dispute with th Department of Education over pay and conditions and schools have not actually received a confirmed budget for this year, although we have been advised again to prepare for cuts compared to the previous year. (It was

suggested earlier this week that the shortfall in the education budget was in the region of 100 million and schools should expect significant cuts). Such reductions restrict our curriculum options, limit our ability to deliver the optimum range of subjects for our students and put undue pressure on class sizes and teachers. That we are not the only school facing these budget challenges does nothing to off-set our genuine concerns and so we urge our politicians to find a way to get back to delivering for everyone.

“As a Principal, I am truly grateful that I have a staff so committed, so professional and so hard- working. Each and every day they give so

much on behalf of our students and I commend them to you whole-heartedly. As always, here in Loreto we are willing and ready to meet the many challenges ahead and to find ways that will allow us to continue to deliver for our pupils. Certainly, this evening we gather to celebrate recent academic success and there is no doubt that this is important to our students and to their parents. Last yea our academic results saw us, once again, placed amongst the top performing schools in Northern Ireland, wit our performances at both GCSE and A Level confirming Loreto College as the leading school in the area. This is something of which everyone here should feel rightly proud and I am glad to say that the group of students in front of me has been able to maintain the high standards of previous years and I congratulate them, their teachers and their parents on their hard work and efforts.

“This year, as well as academic success, various individuals and teams have enjoyed great musical or sporting successes. We were thrilled by the wonderful performance of our Y11 boys, winning a Senior Ulster title in Gaelic football for the first time. And we were amazed by the musical brilliance of our traditional group playing at the Siansa final as well as the fantastic success of our Young Scientists being awarded the title of best school in Northern Ireland. We realise that each Loreto student brings a unique presence that adds so much to the

life of the school and today we celebrate the talents and abilities of each and every one of our pupils, not just our prize winners.

“I am delighted that the Loreto Sisters still remain such a vibrant presence in our school and I am even more delighted that Sr Rosemary was with us this evening as our guest speaker. We thank her and all of the Loreto Community for their continued support and prayers. We are very proud of our Loreto heritage and we try to emulate the ideals of Mary Ward in our day to day working. Loreto education is value driven and emphasises the importance of relationships, respect and spirituality. Our core values of Freedom, Joy, Truth, Sincerity and Justice are at the centre of everything we do here in school and we hope that in the future our students will use their talents to help build a more just and equitable society and create a better future for everyone.

“School life, in Loreto, is about educating the whole person and that is why I am delighted, once again, with participation in the wider school life. Participating in extracurricular activities brings a wealth of opportunities and develops friendships and skills that will last long after school. This year, again, has been hugely successful in a range of areas and I congratulate all those who have participated throughout out the year, as well as thanking the teachers who have given so freely of their time to help organise and run the various activities.

“Notable success was achieved this year at the BT Young Scientists competition in Dublin where Emmett Brolly received the Senior Individual award in the Chemistry, Physics and Mathematical Sciences category. Donal Close and Sian Donaghy won a special award for the Best Project from Northern Ireland, with Loreto College named Best School in Northern Ireland to crown a wonderful week of achievement. Five students then went on to win awards at the annual Big Bang Fair and will represent NI at national level in March 2018.  We congratulate the pupils and thank their Mentors Mrs Close and Mrs Brolly.

“It’s been another good year for our Gaelic Games teams, starting off with the Junior Camogie team narrowly losing in the Ulster Final of their competition. In Gaelic football, the Senior team, following a replay, were narrowly defeated at the quarter finals stage of the MacLarnon Cup competition whilst the Y12 Arthur’s Cup team also made it to the quarter final stage. Meanwhile, the Year 8 Gaelic team qualified to the final stages of their blitz, the Y9 team lost in the semi – final of the Faul Cup and the Y10 team also made it through to the semi-final of the McDevitt Cup. The Y11 team went one better, when they emerged as Treanor Cup Ulster champions following a tightly-contested Final against St Paul’s High School Bessbrook. Continuing our recent success in hurling, the Y12 hurlers won the Maquire Cup to become Ulster Champions for a fourth year. The Y8 Hurlers also became Ulster champions winning the C Ulster shield and the Year 9 Hurlers made it to the semi-final of the Reihill Cup. Congratulations to all the teams and their very dedicated coaches, Mrs McGoldrick, Mr

Murtagh, Mr Deighan, Mr Murphy, Mr Conroy, Mr Boyle and Mr McAfee.

“Netball teams had another excellent year. The Minor A team and the Y8 team both won their respective Coleraine and District League, whilst the intermediate A Team and Senior B Team were runners up in their leagues. A combined Year 9 and Year 8 netball team won an Inter-Schools Netball Tournament, hosted by Dominican College, whilst the Y8 girls won the NEBSSA title. Eight girls were selected for the Regional Development squad. The senior Soccer team lost out narrowly in the final of the Morton Halifax Cup, with the Y9 and Y11 teams losing in the semi-final of their competitions. The Year 8 soccer team emerged victorious in their final, with star player Y8 Patrick Kelly being selected to play for Northern Ireland. The Year 8 cricket team had a successful first year, winning the local Blitz for developing schools. Again, thanks to all the coaches of these teams, Mr Byrne, Mr McCloskey, Ms Wilson, Mrs McCullough and Mr Kildea.

“Niamh Carr won the Ulster Clubs cross-country title and was first in the Intermediate district cross-country championships. Niamh McGarry was placed second in the girls Y8 race both at district and Ulster level. Mollie Brennan was third in the Senior District Race. Niamh Carr went on to come fourth at all-Ireland level and was selected to represent Ireland at international competitions. In athletics, Niamh was 3rd in the 3000m and first in 1500m at the Ulster Championships, whilst Christopher Doherty was second in the Senior boys 200m and also 2 nd in the Ulster multi-events championships. Niamh Mc Garry took silver in the Y8 800m and all three went on to compete at all-Ireland level, with Niamh Carr winning a bronze at 1500m.

“At the Ulster Schools swimming gala, Niamh McGarry won Silver in the 50M Freestyle, Eoin Mullan won silver in both the 100M Butterfly and 200M Individual Medley events. Shannon Baird was second in the Breaststroke and Orla Quinn was third in Individual Medley, with our relay team placed third.

“Away from sport, the school has been involved in the Shared Education Project with Coleraine Grammar and St Joseph’s College. Pupils and staff have been cooperating and learning with each other through different strands such as History, Geography and Art. Our Irish department was thrilled when a Year 10 team took part in the Gael Linn Quiz, finishing in an outstanding second place in the Ulster Final. Eve Gardiner won the local heat of the Soroptimist Public Speaking competition and 5 students gained their HSK1 examination in


“In the Credit Union Art & Design competition, Roksana Strugala was placed second and Caitlin Campbell third, whilst in another age category, Josephine Johnson was placed first, Adam Lawlor was second and Wiktoria Czerwinska was third. Also in Art, Y10 student, Corey Cassidy, won his section of the all-Ireland Texaco Art Competition. In creative writing, Philip Doherty won the Senior Poetry Prize, with Donal Close winning the intermediate section in the Seamus Heaney Memorial Poetry competition.

“The Junior Drama Club staged its first Autumn Show, presenting extracts from Matilda, Bugsy Malone and The Wizard of Oz. Working under the direction of Year 13 and Year 14 Theatre Studies students, the Junior pupils presented really wonderful performances. As you will notice behind me the set for this year’s musical, Footloose is just starting to take shape and these Y13 directors now have the opportunity to perform themselves. Once again it promises to be a wonderful show and tickets will be on sale from next week through the school box office. (more usually known as Mrs Dougan in the office).

“A host of students obtained distinctions in their Trinity piano and singing exams and the Junior and Senior Choirs, conducted by Mrs Sharkey, performed to a sell-out audience as they joined the world renowned ‘Priests’ in concert. This year 7 of our students were crowned world champion Irish dancers at the Waterfront Hall, whilst a set dancing team composed entirely of Loreto pupils won the Scór na nÓg Ulster final. Our traditional music group, Tieg Tara, having won through the Ulster competition, represented the College in the All Ireland Final of the Gael Linn Siansa competition in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. A fantastic achievement for all concerned and our thanks to Mrs Close for all her hard work in preparing the musicians and dancers.

“On your behalf, I would like to thank the teachers and other staff members who give so freely of their time to support our pupils in all these various activities and sports. It is only through their selfless dedication and commitment that it is possible for these to happen at all.

“Success for us, as Loreto educators, will be measured by how we have developed each pupil as an individual person and how they use their talents and abilities to help others. We see this through the year, when so many Y14 students engage in voluntary work in their parishes to gain the Pope John Paul Gold Award and also with our Y13 students who act as Faith Friends to local primary school pupils. Our pupils responded magnificently to this year’s Trocaire appeal by raising over £6000. Whilst at Christmas, thirty large hampers were collected and distributed by our SVP group and an impressive 312 shoeboxes were collected to bring joy and hope to those most in need. We also raised large sums for several cancer charities as well as £3500 for our own Loreto missions. In particular, I would like to commend Mrs McCool for her hard work and commitment coordinating all these efforts.

“Although I have already mentioned it, I want, on your behalf to say a special thank you to our teachers for their continued professionalism and commitment. I feel proud and honoured to have them as colleagues in our school and I am convinced that there is no finer staff in any school. I am confident that they provide a level of service that is truly outstanding and I commend them to you and thank them on your behalf.

“Our support staff play a vitally important role in maintaining the quality of services, buildings and grounds and they do an exceptional job every day on behalf of our students. I thank them for all the unseen work that goes in to making our school function smoothly. My thanks also to our Governors, who are required to make man important and difficult decisions. They give so generously of their time and expertise and always have the best interests of the College and its students at heart.

“Our Religious Education Department and the many visiting Priests play an important role in the life of the school and I am grateful for the time and effort they put into organising and celebrating our liturgies and retreats throughout the year. Their pastoral support, particularly during recent times of crises, has been wonderful and is greatly appreciated. In times of need they have provided a focus for us all to come together and share in prayer and reflection and their presence is central to our Catholic ethos. My thanks, as always, to the Loreto Community both here in Coleraine and further afield. Their prayers and support this year and every year are a valuable source of strength and we look forward to their continued presence in the school in the future.

“To our Y14s, who stand at a new threshold and who will begin their own transition process in the coming days, I ask you to go out and make your mark in the world by using your talents and skills for the benefit of others. Mark Twain once wrote “20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do rather than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

“Finally, my thanks to you, our current pupils. You are the special ingredient that makes Loreto College such a wonderful school. You are all key members of our school community and we greatly appreciate your own unique talents and qualities. Loreto College is your school and I encourage you to make it the best school it can be, by looking after our buildings and environment as well as striving to the highest standards of manners, respect and courtesy. I thank you for your cooperation throughout the year and the polite and pleasant manner you invariably display. I am extremely proud to be Principal of this school and I hope that you are equally proud to be its pupils.’

The prizes were then distributed, presented by the guest speaker Sr Rosemary Gallagher, by Mr James and members of the Senior Leadership Team, and by various Heads of Department, Heads of Year and Co- ordinators of extra-curricular activities.