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Our annual prize night this year was once again a huge success.
It provided a great opportunity for us to begin the celebrations of our 45th year in St. Genevieve’s.
We would like to especially thank all of our past pupils who returned for the event, including Lauren Quinn who was our guest speaker on the night.
Good evening and a warm welcome to our 45th Anniversary Awards Celebration. May I extend a particular welcome and thanks to our guest speaker and past pupil Lauren Quinn. It is always a pleasure to see our past pupils and to learn how they have progressed since leaving the school. Like so many of our girls, Lauren has excelled and we are proud to have her join us this evening.
45 years in the life of a school is a long time, indeed for some, one year in the life of a school can seem a long time! During this period thousands of girls have been given a superb education in a caring Catholic environment, by highly skilled and dedicated staff. Tonight provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the past Principals, staff and pupils, some of whom are guests here this evening. But let us not forget that all of us, teachers, parents, members of the office staff, caretakers, lunchtime supervisors, everyone makes an impact on the life of the school and the environment in which our girls are taught and we endeavour to make that a safe and happy place.
St Genevieve’s opened its doors on the 6th day of September 1966 with 550 pupils and 26 teachers. De La Salle opened also, a twin version, on the same site. Thanks to the generosity of the St Agnes parishioners and the efforts of the then parish priest, V Rev Fr Thomas Cunningham, the Andersonstown and wider community were provided with the two new schools for girls and boys.
From the outset, Sr Mona Lally, our first Principal, set high standards for our girls. She decided at an early stage to prepare our girls for public examinations which was progressive thinking for its day since St Genevieve’s was then a secondary intermediate school and as such was considered only to cater for girls who had been refused a grammar school place. Students were entered for the NI Junior and Senior Certificates and later GCE O level. In 1971 the Department of Education gave the school permission to offer A level courses in conjunction with De La Salle. This was the beginning of a consortium arrangement, unique to the West Belfast area, which is still in operation today, giving one of the widest choices of courses to the girls and boys in the schools.
The school’s life has had trials and tribulations as happens in any community. 1969 saw the start of the troubles in Northern Ireland and as a West Belfast school, St Genevieve’s was in the heart of a flashpoint area. On the 15 August the school provided a relief centre for the men, women and children forced to flee burning homes. Internment in 1971 provoked widespread rioting and pupils went to school under fear of bomb and bullet. The army took over the school in Operation Motorman in August 1972. In our 40th Anniversary magazine, Sr Mona reflected how she watched with horror as her herbaceous border disappeared under an avalanche of sandbags. Her objection “Look out, you are destroying our roses!” was met by a soldier’s response, “Madam. They will bloom again next year”. This was to prove prophetic as our girls did indeed bloom the following year and every year since.
St Genevieve’s long outlived this disturbing time and in spite of a mortar attack which left the assembly hall badly damaged, the school continued to thrive and prosper. Sr Mona was succeeded by Sr Mary Clancy in 1976 and by then the school population had increased to over 800. The pupils continued to benefit from her progressive leadership. The boys and girls were able to select from subjects in a common timetable offered in both schools, increasing the numbers staying on in 6th year and improving the opportunities for both the girls and boys of the community. The link with De La Salle strengthened and now thanks to the support and leadership of Mr Barry, it is stronger than ever. Our two schools continue to flourish and to serve. Over time, school numbers increased to 900 and the school was bursting at the seams. The school staff began to dream of new accommodation, but this would remain a dream for another 15 years.
In 1985, Sr Luca Henry became Principal and finally during her tenure, the dream of new accommodation began to be realised against a backdrop of significant educational change. In spite of the poor accommodation, social unrest and worries for the future, the school kept pace with developments and continued to provide a happy and safe environment for the girls. Our past pupils and staff may indeed have memories of freezing, damp mobiles but the true memories will be the dedication and care that was provided in spite of the hardship. Sr Luca continued the fight for a new school at a time of great uncertainty in education and widespread redundancies.
Mrs Murphy our 4th Principal took up post in 1995, a period of tenure which would cross into a new century. The turn of the millennium was a period of great change in the school. Four years earlier St Genevieve’s was chosen to be the first Catholic Maintained school to take part in the Private Finance Initiative building programme. We were to have a new school building at long last. In February, 2002, the school moved to this prestigious Trench House site. A great tribute is owed to Mrs Murphy and her Senior Staff for the smooth transition which was managed in one week. The school had grown to a population of 900 plus pupils and 65 staff. We finally said farewell to the 47 mobile classrooms and substandard accommodation. Writing for the 40th magazine Mrs Murphy paid tribute to the work and dedication of the St Louis sisters in building the fabric and soul of the school. As she so eloquently put it the soul of a school is, “not the building but the spirit of the school – a spirit of shared Faith, honour, teamwork, comradeship and all that is best in communal life”.
The next principal, Miss Butler, would become the custodian of the legacy of the St Louis sisters. With her dedication and leadership, the school continued to grow and to progress. She steered the school through the troubled waters of The new PFI regime, Changes to GCSE and A levels, Entitlement Framework, The New Revised Curriculum to name but a few. At the time it was estimated that there were 72 different education initiatives to be navigated. She led her staff with a warmth and fairness that is characteristic of the ethos the school. The school continued to excel under her leadership. During her last year as Principal, the NI Inspectorate concluded in October 2007 that “The quality of education provided in this school is very good. The parents and local community can have confidence in the school’s capacity for sustained self-improvement”.
45 years is a milestone. For some it is more than half a lifetime, but for a school it is a wonderful opportunity to remember the great women, men and girls who created the traditions and ethos which makes St Genevieve’s what it is today.
I stand before you as the 6th Principal of this exceptional and excellent school. I am humbled as I reflect on, and pay tribute to, the courageous, visionary and talented women who have held this privileged position before me. 45 years of trials, tribulations, transition and change, but always providing our girls with high quality education embracing high expectations. Over these 45 years has anything really changed? The building certainly, the people, without doubt, the pupils have come and gone, but the soul of the school remains the same. It still has a wonderful staff, who put our girls first in everything they do. And our pupils, a group of girls who feel cared for by their teachers, supported by their parents are encouraged to excel. The St Louis ethos which Sr Mona planted has been cultivated by all of us and continues to bloom every year, the fruits of which are celebrated tonight at this Awards Ceremony.
But academic success is only one measure of the value a school adds to pupils in the process of their education. Here in St Genevieve’s we embrace all abilities and we strive to release and to realise potential together. In whatever direction their talents and abilities will take them, our girls are encouraged to bloom.
I wish you an enjoyable evening, thank you.