On Saturday 1st October, the Friends of our Congregation joined with us for the afternoon Celebration of Friendship which was held in our Niland Conference Centre. Whilst listening to Sister Ann Cunningham OP in her welcoming address to the large gathering of Sisters and friends we were reminded of the true value of friendship in our lives.

This is always a favourite event on our calendar for many sisters and friends who, during the year, do not often have an opportunity to meet. The meeting begins with a speaker presenting a topic of interest. Some months earlier I had thought it would be interesting this year to take a brief look back together at the heritage that is our schools. Not having a naturally historical turn of mind, I needed to do it my way. Hence the title Snapshot – moments in our schools’ history, with the occasional closer look at what captured my imagination in the many facts and figures I researched. What I discovered was that a great deal captured my imagination: it wasn’t just facts and figures but an amazing story of faith, belief and trust, as our sisters continually answered the call to open schools where they were needed in South Africa and in England. Like Topsy, the story just ‘growed and growed’. The draft presentation became longer and longer: it was becoming a series of talks, not a talk! So I had to cut and edit ruthlessly – and keep reminding myself that the title was Snapshot.

Mainly with the aid of borrowed photos of yesteryear and Being Driven Forward, written by Srs. Columba, Eleanora and Flora in the 1990s, a glimpse emerged of the extraordinary ministry of our sisters in the field of Education during the last 115 years.

The Presentation was in two parts, first the development of our schools in South Africa, from the small beginning in Newcastle to the flourishing schools today throughout Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng(known as Natal and the Rand in the early days).

As there would be relatively few Friends at the meeting who had been directly involved with the South African part  of our heritage, I had imagined that most people would be keen to get to the English scene!  It was a lovely surprise to discover that the whole story of our beginnings and subsequent trials and successes was enormously welcomed and appreciated by everyone. My own few months in South Africa in 2006 had given me, too, a feel and appreciation of the wonderful mission of our sisters there. As one past pupil remarked, “We never knew the story of the sisters in South Africa, it was fascinating to hear.” At the break another participant commented, “If you want to get a job done, get a group of sisters to do it!

After a short interval to stretch and chat, the Friends heard the parallel story unfold of developments in England. Tracing the story of our schools here had an added challenge for me. Having left teaching at a relatively young age, I was acutely aware that there would be many present who knew far more about our schools than I do.  On the day there were at least seven retired Head teachers as well as Bernadette Quinn, the current Headteacher of St. Cuthbert Mayne School, Hemel Hempstead. Also watching the presentation were past pupils of our schools, parents of past pupils and many teachers. I reminded myself of the Snapshot approach!  During preparation of the talk a past pupil, Ann, who had been in Rosary Priory before the war, had filled in some of the  knowledge of those early days. This part of the Presentation stirred memories for many. To quote Teresa, “as I looked around the room at the many faces, I could see that the topic was evoking happy and poignant memories for all of us.”
I am very grateful to the sisters and friends who enriched the presentation with their photographs. As there was a total of 178 slides (my draft had  many more!) it is impossible to reproduce them here. An exciting outcome from the afternoon is that a number of past pupils, teachers and parents have sent me additional photos to complement those I showed, It has been particularly valuable to receive from Carol images of St. Thomas’s School, Stanmore, which we do not have in the Archives. No closing date for more contributions! Sr. Laurentia has written an account of our Friends’ Day in the news section of the Niland Conference Centre website.
The conclusion of our Celebration took place in Rosary Priory Chapel where we all sang Evening Prayer together.
Sister Regina