Monday, 7 September, 1959 is a landmark date in the history of secondary education in Newbridge. On that day the town’s first secondary school for girls opened its doors – the same doors which had welcomed the first pupils of the Holy Family Sisters in 1875.
Until 1948, girls in the Newbridge area who wished to continue their education after primary school, travelled either to Kildare or Naas. Secondary education for girls was introduced by Monsignor Miller, parish priest of Newbridge: it was then known as a ‘Secondary Top’. Sr. Gertrude O’Sullivan was principal. The Secondary Top started with six pupils who sat for the Intermediate Certificate examination in 1950.
Due to an increasing enrolment, lack of adequate accommodation and for financial reasons, it was deemed essential to apply for recognition as a Secondary School.
When the official opening of the school took place in 1959 there was an enrolment of seventy-five pupils and a staff of five. Sr. Catherine Moran was Principal and she was assisted by Mrs. Máire Ryan – later to become the first Vice-Principal of the school – Mrs. Margaret O’Donoghue, Sr. Elizabeth Molloy and Sr. Rosalie Ryan. A wide range of subjects was on offer: apart from the core subjects of Irish, English, Maths, History and Geography, the curriculum also included junior Science, Leaving Cert Biology, Commerce, Latin and French. Home Economics was taught by Mrs. Gibson – a part-time teacher – and art was taught by Mr. Partridge. Although not on the official curriculum, Singing and Music were not neglected.
For the first eight years of its existence, Holy Family Secondary School was located in the east wing of the Convent. However, due to a significant increase in enrolment, it became obvious that a new building was essential. For the first time the Department of Education announced state capital grants to fund new buildings. The Holy Family Secondary School was one of the first in the country to avail of the scheme.
The site was blessed and the first sod for the new school was turned by the Parish Priest, Monsignor Miller, on 6 November, 1965 – feast of All the Saints of Ireland. The blessing and official opening took place on 14 September, 1967. Nine years later, problems of accommodation arose once more. The site for the extension was blessed on 9 March, 1981 by Fr. Garry Murphy P.P. The blessing and official opening took place on 14 September 1982, the ceremony being performed by Dr. Liam Ó Maolcatha, Chief Inspector, Department of Education – who, incidentally, had examined the first Leaving Cert. class for oral Irish in 1960. After the opening ceremony the Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, Most Rev. Patrick Lennon, D.D. blessed the building. The total cost, including furniture and equipment, was £568.00: a sizable amount of this had to be found by the Holy Family Sisters. The second and final extension to the school was officially opened and blessed by Most. Rev. J. Moriarty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin.
In 1992, the Holy Family Sisters handed over the ownership of the school to the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin. The first Board of Management was set up under the chairmanship of Mr Cahir O’Sullivan, and the first lay Principal, Mrs. Rita Brazil. was appointed. The name, character and ethos of the school would be maintained. As far as possible, the Sisters would maintain contact with the school by providing a school chaplain.
“To be family and to build family” describes the ethos of the Holy Family Association. The Second Vatican Council’s insistence on a greater involvement of lay people in the life of the Church spilled over into the area of education. The concept of the rights of parents as partners in education was advanced. Long before the advent of Parents’ Associations there was always a community and ‘family’ dimension to Holy Family education. The support of parents, expressed in so many ways, was much appreciated and was one of the great strengths of Holy Family School.
Schools have their own special identity and charism, shaped and nurtured by the people who have worked there. The ‘family spirit’ has been one of the outstanding characteristics of Holy Family Secondary School. As the school grew, the concept of ‘family’ has been considerably broadened and enriched. There is now a beautiful sharing of life with pupils from so many different countries and traditions. This, in turn, has
helped all to re-discover the beauty and riches of their own tradition. Holy Family Secondary School has always been to the fore in its awareness of being part of the wider community. Now, more than ever, we realise that everything in creation is inter-related and inter-dependent. The term ‘family’ embraces all God’s creation.