Salerno celebrates two important milestones this year

Sr Gerarda — the driving force behind the plans to link up with former pupils worldwide.

Sr Gerarda — the driving force behind the plans to link up with former pupils worldwide.

A 560 pupil city secondary school will mark two very important milestones in its history this year.

The Jesus and Mary (Salerno ) school in Threadneedle Road, Salthill will celebrate its golden jubilee as well as the 100th anniverary of the arrival in Ireland of the order of nuns who founded the school.

The facility, which attracts pupils from about 29 primary schools in the city and county, is keen to make contact with former students as part of its plans to mark its 50 years in existence in October.

School principal Sr Gerarda Lawler said it is compiling a bank of email addresses and is keen to link up with past pupils.

“We are using our golden jubilee to bring past pupils back and link them up with their teachers.”

A €1 million extension to the school was completed in September. The 12-classroom development provided much needed additional space for the school which was “hugely overcrowded”, she stated. Junior, fifth and sixth year students are accommodated in the new premises.

Overcrowded conditions

She singled out the “fantastic” building management team for their tireless efforts, especially JJ Rhatigan, the construction company, school board of management chairperson Ray O’Connor ( “he was second to none” ), architect Declan Molloy and the school’s internal works manager Colie Molloy.

“We got 12 classrooms built on our doorstep. This has made a tremendous difference,” said Sr Gerarda, who went on to pay tribute to the staff and students for working in overcrowded conditions. “The quality of the extension is fantastic, the sense of space is unbelievable. It was badly needed because the school was hugely overcrowded.

“We did four big fundraising ventures every two years over eight years and we raised €100,000 in all. Half of these funds went to charities, such as Croi and the Marie Keating Foundation. These ventures were all under the direction of June Smith (our PE teacher ) assisted by her husband Mike.”

Fundraising is under way for phase two of the development - the construction of a sports hall - which will cost in the region of €500,000. It is hoped work will begin on the project this year. The school previously rented sporting facilities from Aras Bothar na Tra, Galway Lawn Tennis Club and NUI Galway.

“I know we will get value for money from this. We have a very strong tradition of every sport, including swimming, basketball, hockey and badminton. We also nurture individual sports in whatever way we can.

Tough times

“We started a 50/50 draw in September whereby we sell tickets for €2 each or €20 for a book and have had huge support from parents. We have a weekly draw with one prize which represents half of the money that comes in each week. We are conscious of the tough times we are in and how very, very difficult it is for people today so we want to give something back. We would appreciate if people could support the draw, they can buy tickets online from our website - we have a Paypal facility there. We would be grateful for any donations from people also.”

There are 40 Jesus and Mary Sisters in Ireland, seven of whom are in Galway and are based at Lenaboy Gardens in Salthill. The order, which is involved in education, parish work and counselling, has six schools in Ireland, two of which are located in Salthill - Scoil Ide, a primary school at Ardnamara, and Salerno, the secondary school at Threadneedle Road. Three sisters are involved with the latter - Sr Gerarda as principal, Sr Maria O’Toole, a former principal and family counsellor who teaches self esteem to First Year classes and Sr Angela Maughan, a chaplain. Sr Gerarda has been principal since 1991.

The order originated in Lyon, France in 1818 and came to Ireland in 1912. Its founder, Saint Claudine Thevenet, was a woman in her 40s who had witnessed at a young age the execution of her two brothers during the French Revolution. She set up the congregation with the aim of making Jesus and Mary known and loved in every social class.

Education in its broadest sense

“The congregation is very strong on the care of the child,” said Sr Gerarda. “It believes in providing education in its broadest sense with the child at the centre. It stresses the importance of preparing them for life and making them feel important and worthwhile.

“We’ve always tried to hold this ethos in Salerno. I’ve inherited this from past staff. The school is keen to get the highest points but also to nurture the development of the child. The deputy principal, Margie Connolly, is a huge support to me, as was the previous deputy Maura Carter.”

Sr Gerarda recalls the day she joined the Congregation of Jesus and Mary in Co Mayo in 1975 as if it were yesterday. It was a wet and windy Thursday in October when her parents drove the eldest of their seven children to the Crossmolina convent. Born in Dublin, the then 21-year-old university graduate with a degree in Irish and Spanish was immediately struck by the warmth and friendliness of the Sisters. She knew at once that she had made the right decision and settled in quickly. She began teaching in the local secondary school the following week.

Later she recalled with gratitude that her father had been there to share the special occasion of entering the convent with her; he died before she took her final vows. Her mother, who is 87 and lives in Dublin, had some knowledge of the religious life as her sister was a Medical Missionaries of Mary nun. Both her parents were always very supportive.

She said she did not “hear a call” to join the nuns but knew this was something she “would have to try”.

“When I was in college I thought this was something I would eventually do. I wasn’t overly religious, I was a normal, ordinary student who mixed with guys and girls. I played table tennis to the highest level and I socialised.”

As a child she had attended a school run by the Jesus and Mary Sisters and was impressed by their attitude to the pupils.

“I was influenced by the Sisters at school. These were ordinary women, they were not austere and they cared for the students’ happiness. They inspired me by their philosophy, how they cared for the children and how genuinely happy they were to be with each other. They gave each other space and respect. The Sisters of Jesus and Mary bring a particular ethos, a particular spirit....I felt that in Eniscrone, Crossmolina, Dublin and here. It’s something that’s caught. People walk in and say there’s something about the place.”

The Sisters have brought this ethos to Salerno, she said. “I believe Salerno is special, I’m not saying it is better [than other schools]. It cares for students, it has a special belief that they will walk out of here with their head held high able to cope with what life will throw at them. If they get five passes or 10 As they are as important to us.”


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