Days like that don’t just happen, they are not just lucky days. They are the result of careful planning, in an atmosphere of confidence in the girls, believing that when much is expected of them they will produce the best. That’s what you keep telling yourself, that’s what you keep telling your staff, but in your heart of hearts you know that it could all go dreadfully wrong. The weeks of preparation for an event such as the opening of new school buildings, while busy in a hundred new ways, are filled with the fears that bad weather might ruin the day, that all your worst nightmares might come true. Children are wonderfully unpredictable.
I had decided early on to contact Rome to invite Mother Antonia, the Mother General of the Salesian Sisters to be the main guest at this very important event. The day was to coincide with our celebrations of the school feast of St John Bosco. Mother Antonia willingly said ‘Yes’ even although it was a busy time of the year for her.
Planning! Not the most popular word in educational jargon. It means meetings beyond the call of duty for teachers already weary with the everyday life of school. Some schools play safe on days like this, they argue that in the presence of so many important and distinguished visitors it is safer to let most of the pupils go home early and keep the choir and a few well-behaved pupils in school to impress the visitors. I decided, early on, that the important people were the girls. It was their school and every one of them would be invited for the great day. Yes everyone! Even the most accomplished truants never miss the special days. To make plans to keep 1000 girls calm for two hours, move them in an orderly fashion into a large Sports Hall, keep them occupied half an hour before the Mass and then prepare the singing and dancing for a Mass that will last 45 minutes, that requires some planning! In good salesian style we organised some fun activities for the first part of the morning. After all it was their feast-day they must celebrate in their way first to prepare them to enjoy the Mass.
You could sense the excitement of the girls when the great day came, and the rain came too. We had all dreaded the rain, but had wisely planned to have big golf umbrellas ready. There were 100 special guests and they were eagerly greeted by sixth formers who, totally oblivious of the rain and not in the least intimidated by the rank of their visitors, shepherded them proudly to the common room as if they were new pupils to be signed-in. But how would these Liverpool girls react to Mother Antonia the Mother General. I need not have worried. They loved her! Her infectious smile won their hearts immediately. She was at home with these Liverpool girls and they knew it.
The official opening began magnificently, went into a slow movement of small group prayer and ended triumphantly with a Mass I will never forget.
In small groups of prayer the Governors and the girls of the Student Council and the special guests visited the various areas of new and refurbished buildings, candles were lit and short readings read and a blessings given.. As we moved from place to place we were met by a variety of pupils from different year groups and staff from the various departments. We were able to view the work of each area.
Finally to the Sports Hall where over 1000 pupils waited with the staff and the remainder of our guests to continue with the celebration of the Eucharist. This was a joyful celebration with everybody taking a very active part. During Mass the pupils sang, played their instruments and danced and in the words of the school motto, ‘Served the Lord with Gladness’. The students were absolutely wonderful. Not one of them let themselves down. They were well behaved, prayed and sang with reverence and joy and took a very active part in the celebration of Mass. Considering that the girls had to sit on the floor for almost two hours this was some achievement.
Before the final hymn I said a few words to the pupils and guests and welcomed Mother Antonia. She addressed the pupils in a most moving and meaningful way. She showed them a tapestry which had been woven out of threads of various colours and thickness from the eighty-eight provinces of the Salesian Sisters. “Each of us is different”, she said, “but together we can make a beautiful and harmonious whole.” She really touched the hearts of the young women and they showed this in their very warm applause and appreciation. “She’s boss.” and “I want to take her home with me.” were a couple of the comments overheard that day. The pupils went home early each having received a mug as a memento of this special day.
The guests were taken to the Hall by their tour guides and were treated to beautiful music from the Woodwind section of the Orchestra after which the Senior Choir sang for us. Mr Cogley the Director od Education for Liverpool spontaneously thanked the girls and asked them to pass on his wishes to the other pupils. “You know you are the best.” he said.
Mother Antonia. Both spoke very highly of the school, of the commitment and dedication of the staff and of the outstanding standards that are achieved with and by the pupils.
The whole day had an air of excitement about it, not a noisy loud excitement, but the deep sense of elation that comes with the kind of event that we had all experienced that day. It is the sense of something worthwhile and profound, the sense of the ‘Holy Ground’ that we had sung about during Mass and a depth of feeling that it is difficult to put into words. I was so proud of the girls that day, every single one of the without exception. They showed a great loyalty and love of their school while thoroughly enjoying themselves. That’s education!
Sister Helen Murphy FMA