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New Presentation school opened in Waterford

By editor - 01 April, 2013

“The official opening of this new building for a Catholic girls ’school in the 21st century is a rare event,” said Principal, Mary Ryan.

“The official opening of this new building for a Catholic girls ’school in the 21st century is a rare event,” said Mary Ryan, Principal, Presentation Secondary School, Waterford, at the official opening of its new premises.

“The completion of this project enables us to maintain and continue a tradition of excellence in education that dates back to 1798. That was the year in which Presentation sisters established the first Catholic school in the city centre at Jenkin’s Lane”

Ruth Gallen, Deputy Principal, welcomed the guests who gathered on Friday before Easter, for the official opening of the new school building. In attendance were the Waterford Mayor, Councillor Jim D’Arcy; local priests Fr. Pat Fitzgerald, P.P., St. Paul’s, Fr. Richard O’Halloran, C.C., St. Paul’s; past teachers, past pupils, parents and members of the design and building teams.

Mary Ryan, Principal, spoke of how the campaign to build the new school began 14 years ago, in January 1999. The then Principal, Sr Fidelis Purcell, had a vision for the provision of a secondary school under one roof, putting an end to the daily soakings as students and teachers travelled between two buildings in Slievekeale and Cannon Street.

Following visit between the Department of Education officials, Sr Fidelis, and her Deputy, John Brennan, it was acknowledged that due to the poor standard of buildings, Coláiste na Maighdine, needed a brand new building. In June 2002, the new principal Terry White inherited the project. Convent buildings were sold, pre fab buildings were in situ for a time and many long years of persistence and determination followed. By the time Terry White retired in August 2010, those involved could foresee a future for Presentation/CEIST education in Waterford.

“The school was supported by two formidable women in its struggle with bureaucracy. Presentation Provincial at the time, Sr Claude Meagher, and later, as the management of Presentation schools was handed over to a trust body, Anne Kelleher, CEO of CEIST. These women fought many battles in the corridors of power on our behalf,” said Mary Ryan.

On 22nd March 2011 the first sod was turned for the foundations. The school design by architects, CJ Falconer & Associates, incorporates the latest Department requirements together with a wide range of Special Purpose Rooms. Externally, the natural stone at the main entrance echoes that of the original convent building. Following demolition of the badly sited old building and removal of pre-fabs, the grounds have been given a facelift. The school is now a *CEIST school, remaining deeply rooted in the Presentation tradition.

“Our efforts have been truly vindicated and justly rewarded as First Year enrolment for the coming year has increased by 37%. Clearly, there is a demand for our product,” Mary Ryan, Principal, said.

Addressing the students she concluded: “The lantern is yours now and the light burns on at the Back of the Convent. The future lies before you – here’s wishing you the brightest one possible.”

The history of the Presentation in Waterford goes back to a young girl who had attended the Presentation school in Cork. It is said that she so impressed the Bishop of Waterford that he wanted to set up a similar school in his city. Three women, Margaret Power, her sister, Miss Fanning and her sister-in-law, Eleanor Power went to Cork to be trained by the Presentation sisters and later joined the order.  Their return to Waterford was held up by fighting during the rebellion, but on 6th November 1798 they opened the first Presentation school in Waterford in Jenkins Lane in what now is a heritage centre. It was the first free school in the South- East and was hugely significant in bringing education to the poor people of the city.

Through famine and down the years the sisters and their schools spread all over the county and beyond. The Waterford school building had been added to and the curriculum changed with the times. In 1998 President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese visited to mark the bi-centenary of Presentation education in Waterford. The convent was sold in 2006 when the community of Presentation sisters moved to a house in nearby Larchville to live with the local community. The convent is now the site of the Waterford Health Park. In 2007, Presentation secondary schools became part of CEIST, to ensure that the tradition and ethos of Nano Nagle’s schools and Catholic education will continue to feature in the life of Waterford and Ireland.

*Five Catholic Religious Congregations in post primary education for over three and a half centuries – Daughters of Charity, Presentation Sisters, Sisters of the Christian Retreat, Sisters of Mercy, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart – in the spirit of their Founders, established CEIST – Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust. CEIST emphasizes the dignity and rights of the human person, empowering the most vulnerable in society and enabling young people to become catalysts for social transformation throughout the world.

(Ann Marie Foley)