Homily by Rt. Rev. Mgr. Joseph McGuinness: St. Fanchea’s 50th Anniversary Mass

St. Fanchea’s 50th Anniversary Mass

17 October 2010

When we reflect on what has made us what we are, the nurture that has built on our nature, we think first of our parents, our families and the homes in which we grew up.  But what also figures large in the story of our lives is the influence of the schools we attended, the friendships we forged and the teachers we fondly remember who inspired us, opening doors in our minds and igniting enthusiasms in our hearts.  St. Paul writes that the life and death of each one of us has its influence on others and today we gather to celebrate and to give thanks for the contribution made by St. Fanchea’s College to the lives of girls over the last 50 years; an influence which those young women took with them into our community and our world.  We celebrate in the great act of giving thanks, the Eucharist.  Gathered here are past and present pupils and staff, governors, parents, chaplains and many friends of the College.  Those of us who have had the privilege, in however small a way, to be associated with St. Fanchea’s, have the opportunity today to reflect with quiet pride on the school’s achievements and to draw from that experience the inspiration to renew our commitment to the calling of Christ in our own lives and especially in the way that we support, guide and encourage our young people.

When St. Fanchea’s opened its doors for the first time on the 1st September 1960, 252 girls aged between 11 and 14 years entered the school, along with the Principal, Sr. Dolores and a staff of ten.  On the same day the new St. Joseph’s also welcomed its first pupils.  But the story of St. Fanchea’s really begins much earlier than this.  For the new school could not have come to birth without much planning, preparation and, of course, hard cash.  The legislation for universal secondary education which was enacted at the end of the war had opened the way for the establishment of new schools and the 1950’s and 60’s were a time of huge growth in the building of schools and the provision of educational opportunities.  And so the reality of St. Fanchea’s emerged from the vision and enthusiasm of the Catholic community of that time, as well as the generosity of the people of Fermanagh, who contributed a third of the capital cost of the buildings and equipment.  Before the physical foundation stone was laid, St. Fanchea’s was already founded on the faith of the people of this parish and this county.  An essential element of this was the vision of the Sisters of Mercy, whose special charism was to inform and permeate the ethos of the school, and whose individual members, beginning with the first Principal, Sr. Dolores, were to make such a vital and distinctive contribution to the story of St. Fanchea’s.  The Gospel reminds us of the importance of building on firm foundations, and in the case of St. Fanchea’s, none could have been more solid than these.

On such foundations, the new school grew and flourished.  As pupil numbers increased and the curriculum expanded, extra rooms were needed and so the buildings were extended and new facilities were added. New avenues of opportunity were opened up to new generations of pupils and under the visionary leadership of successive principals – Sr. Columbanus (Kathleen), St. Anne Marie, Mrs. Mary Connolly, and now Mrs Martha Smyth – successive groups of young women set out from St. Fanchea’s to make their way and make their mark in the world.  In January 2006, the school relocated to its present site at Chanterhill – a superb new building on a magnificent site.  That achievement was due in no small measure to the effort, guidance and encouragement of our principal celebrant today, Mgr. Cahill. Indeed it ranks highly among the many achievements of his time as parish priest here in Enniskillen, and remains a significant part of his enduring legacy.

Past pupils of the Mill Street site who are attending our celebrations today will unfortunately be deprived of the nostalgic pleasure of walking the old corridors, but they will no doubt take great pride in how the new school so fittingly meets the educational needs of the present generation of St. Fanchea’s girls.  What they will recognise is the atmosphere which characterises St. Fanchea’s – the sense of a close, happy and enthusiastic school community; the friendliness of the staff and students and the pride they so evidently have in their school.  It is what we call ethos; something which is often hard to fully describe but which we can recognise instantly.  In St. Fanchea’s it is of course a recognisably Catholic ethos, for right from the start the ethos of St. Fanchea’s  has been built on a firm foundation of faith, and at the heart of school life lie prayer and the values of the Gospel.   For St. Fanchea’s, as for all Catholic schools, education is concerned with the development of the whole person – academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.  Moving to a new building hasn’t in any way broken the thread of continuity in the ethos of the school, a thread first spun by the Mercy Sisters and bequeathed by them to the pupils of today.  It is no wonder that the recent report by the Inspectorate rated the quality of pastoral care in St. Fanchea’s as outstanding, and this is a reflection of the quality of the relationship between the various stakeholders in the school community and the invaluable contribution which each makes. Governors, principal, staff and parents all act in concert to fulfil their calling in Jesus Christ to nurture and support the development and achievement of the young people in their care.

The staff in particular provide the girls with wonderful opportunities to discover and develop their talents – giving encouragement, praising achievement and taking pride in their many successes.  This is immediately apparent in the school when you see the quality of the work the pupils produce.  You can see and hear it today in our Liturgy, enhanced by music written and performed by the girls themselves.  It is wonderful to see their talents dedicated to giving glory and praise to God.  To them a big thank you for sharing this with us.  And our gratitude also to the staff who, for the past 50 years, have given such dedication and commitment to what for them is not a job, but a vocation.  Sincere thanks are also due to all the parents, who over the years have entrusted their children to the school in the firm knowledge that they would receive the very best that could be offered.  For any school, the partnership and support of parents is vital and in the history of St. Fanchea’s this has been a key element in the success of the College.

If a 50th anniversary, a golden jubilee, is a time for reflecting in pride on past and present success, it is also a time for considering in confidence and hope the challenge of the future.  The future, admittedly, seems to hold a degree of uncertainty, but one thing is sure: that the firm foundation of faith, hope and charity on which St. Fanchea’s was built and grew will endure. For this vision and its values does not fear change but helps to direct it; it is not dependent on structures but helps to shape them.  And just as all in St. Fanchea’s have done for half a century we pray that future generations will steadfastly believe, ardently strive and proudly achieve.

Rt. Rev. Mgr. Joseph McGuinness

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