A principal’s pride

Living

WITH THANKS On behalf of the Parents Council at Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh, Richard Mannion, Ms Marina Rice and Yvonne Healy made a special presentation to outgoing school Principal Ms Pauline Moran on her retirement. Pic: Conor McKeown

Michael Gallagher

Pauline Moran isn’t quite sure what she’s going to do when she grows up, but that part of her life is arriving any moment now. That was the message the retiring principal of Sancta Maria College in Louisburgh delivered to The Mayo News last week when she spoke about her life in teaching and her adventures in the school.
Pauline certainly isn’t the stereotypical school principal. There’s a childlike divilment lurking behind her eyes and a sense of possibility everywhere she goes. Maybe that’s why she is so universally liked and admired by people of all ages, but make no mistake, Ms Moran has achieved a huge amount during her time in office.
“I always say I still don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up because that’s the way I think. I suppose I’m always looking for a bit of adventure and fun and that certainly won’t stop now. I’ve been at school since I was four, so I think it’s time to think about other things now,” she explained in her bright and colourful Principal’s Office in the new wing of Sancta Maria.
The Louisburgh school is the oldest Catholic co-ed school in the country having first opened its doors in 1920. That sense of history and possibility still echoes through the corridors, according to the retiring principal.
“Weren’t the nuns mighty. Imagine the Ireland of 1920 and they decided to open a secondary school where boys and girls would learn side by side. It’s the natural way to learn and be educated, but many people in 1920 and some, even today, wouldn’t agree with that.”
Pauline arrived in Sancta Maria in 1993 and became principal in 2007. Her path hadn’t been straightforward but her fighting spirit was ideally suited to the new role.
“After leaving college I taught in Galway, Dublin and then in Mullingar for four years. During my time in Mullingar I got married and became a weekend wife and mother.
“I was living in Westport and teaching in Mullingar but it wasn’t too bad until our first child, Sinead, was born. I’d head off on a Monday morning and come back Friday evening and John would look after things at home as well as working in the garage (Moran Bros on the Ballinrobe Road).
“I looked for work down here and after a while Sr Ann (Feighney) was looking for a French teacher in Louisburgh, so the rest is history.”
Pauline became principal in 2007, but life in her new role wasn’t all sweetness and light. “The biggest problem we had was the water coming through the roof. I’d meet Johnny Davitt, the caretaker, here every morning at eight-o-clock and he’d be flat out mopping and trying to put buckets under the leaks. Those leaks nearly drove us mad and we were crying out for a new building.”
However, that new building was put on the long finger in the corridors of power in Dublin. The officials were waiting for the number of students to plateau and then fall but that never happened. Instead, Ms Moran and her team watched the numbers grow and grow.
“There were 299 students the day I started and there’s 523 now. They’ve just kept coming and coming and it hasn’t stopped. The department realised the numbers weren’t going to fall and the building was in a terrible state, so they had to intervene.
“I’ll never forget the day the phone call came through that €12 million had been approved for the new building and today everyone can see what that has meant.”

SPECIAL MEMORY
What’s her greatest memory? Is it Leaving Cert points totals, All-Ireland wins or the brilliant new building? No! Pauline Moran’s greatest memory of her time in Sancta Maria is hearing one word.
“A girl with special needs wanted to come here. She had many challenges and one of them was being non-verbal. We fought hard to make sure she had the supports required and made sure she could attend Sancta Maria if that was her choice. She became a student here and one day I was walking down the corridor when she ran up to me, pointed at my feet and said ‘Shoes.’
“That was the best moment I ever had in teaching. A girl who had to fight for everything in life was comfortable enough and enthused enough to say that word. That’s what education is about – giving people the support and the encouragement to grow and achieve what they want to achieve. And – of course, I also love shoes!”
If the space was available one could write a book on the life and times of Pauline Moran in Sancta Maria. She has had many adventures and is so thankful to the community and so many people for their unstinting support and backing, but there’s one person who stands out above all others.
“In fairness, my husband John has been my rock. He’s just the nicest, calmest man and I couldn’t have done it without him. We have great fun together and he makes me laugh every day which is the secret, I think.” I’m sure more adventures await Pauline and John after her retirement.