Bunclody was called Newtownbarry when the F.C.J. Sisters came in 1861. Following the famine years, there was great poverty and basic education was much needed. Father Parle, the local curate, was determined to do what he could to improve the educational facilities in his parish. Strong oral tradition in the Convent and in the area suggests that Fr. Parle first encountered the Sisters when he was a student in Paris. He applied to the Superior General of the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, to send Sisters to provide much needed education for the children of the area. Reverend Mother Josephine Petit, Superior General, and Mother Marie de Bussy, Assistant General, arrived on the 5th of August 1861. They were assisted by the Provincial Superior of the Irish houses at Laurel Hill and Bruff together with two other Sisters. Father Parle’s house, adjacent to the parish church on Chapel Road, was transformed into a convent and an annexe added to house a community.
Seven Sisters: Ellen Blacket, Lucy Fletcher, Elizabeth Graham, Teresa Ann Murray, Mary Philomena Parsons, Mary Redman and Frances Sheehan formed the first community.
They immediately took over the running of the girl’s primary school and placed an advertisement in the ‘People’ newspaper announcing the Sisters’ intention to open a Boarding School.
On September 21st, 2011, at the Beginning of Year Mass in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Bunclody, the Principal, Ms. Frances Threadgold spoke of the historic occasion as we began school 150 years after the first FCJ sisters arrived in Bunclody in August 1861.
On Tuesday, the 18th of October 2011, we gathered on The Steps as a school community to have our photograph taken and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the F.C.J.s to Bunclody. Following a speech by Ms. Threadgold on our history, there was a Tree [a liquid amber gum tree] Planting Ceremony, “a tree that will stand tall, long after we have all passed through the school and will remain here through the seasons for many years to come. Under the tree we will place a plaque made of marble to stand the test of time.” The plaquereads FCJ SECONDARY SCHOOL CELEBRATING 150 YEARS 1861 – 2011. A second part of the celebration involved all of us sharing in the Planting of Bluebell Bulbs that will return every spring to remind us of the river of time and learning that has passed and that will continue to flow for generations to come. The Principal called on the FCJ Sisters present, the staff and students to come forward and plant a bulb each. Finally, Ms. Threadgold said, “In conclusion students now are invited to remain on the pitches or to walk through the Golf Links to enjoy the facilities we thank the FCJ Sisters for.”
On November 19th, 2011, Bunclody Parish joined in the 150th Celebrations. Bishop Denis Brennan was the principal celebrant at the Mass of Thanksgiving in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Twelve F.C.J. Sisters were present, most of whom had ministered in Bunclody.
At our Christmas Mass in December we especially remembered the small community of F.C.J. Sisters Bunclody in 1861. The Principal said, “We can find great hope in the fact that we celebrate 150 years of FCJ Education in Bunclody this year. Just think of what faced that small community of Sisters on their first Christmas here 150 years ago. They were only here for five months at that stage and the comforts of heat and light that we know would not have existed. But they kept going, thinking I’m sure of Marie Madeleine’s motto, ‘Courage and Confidence’.
There was wide coverage of the celebrations in the local newspapers. There were two interviews on local radio in February and then in March the crew from R.T.E.s “Nationwide” programme came to the school. They featured interviews with Sr. Madeleine Hayes, fcJ, Sr. Madeleine Ryan, fcJ, and the principal, Ms. Frances Threadgold; filmed in the school and also interviewed past pupils, Professor Kevin Whelan, Ms. Marion Rackard and famous tenor, Mr. Anthony Kearns. They televised an Easter Prayer Service in the Convent during which Mr. Kearns sang as did the 6th Year Choir. The programme was broadcast on Good Friday and the presenter was Ms. Helen McInerney, a past pupil of our school.
The biggest event of the celebrations took place on Friday, April 13th, 2012, in The Amber Springs Hotel, Gorey, when we had a superb 150th Celebration Concert. The huge audience included many F.C.J. Sisters, the Board of Management, parents, past and present staff and many past pupils. The Concert featured our Junior, Intermediate & Senior Orchestras as well as our traditional music group, harpists, solo vocalist, jazz group and choir. All the guest artistes were past pupils who have made their careers in the music world : Robert Tobin (Flute), Bridget Nolan (Actress & Singer), Clare Kavanagh (Soprano), Anne-Marie Sheridan (Soprano), The Willoughby Brothers (All six of them singing in gorgeous harmony) and Anthony Kearns (Tenor).
On Saturday afternoon, May 12th 2012, our three F.C.J. Sisters, Sr. Madeleine Hayes, Sr. Ger Curran & Sr. Madeleine Ryan, unveiled a specially commissioned Stained Glass Window in the front hall of the school. The symbols include the school crest in the top right hand corner, the years 1861 and 2011 underneath, the Le Chéile Trust logo on the left side, and 150 in a circle at the bottom. The brightly coloured plant leaves which appear to grow from the bottom to the top of the window symbolise the vibrancy, life and growth of the school in the past, present and into the future.
On the same day, an Open Afternoon and Mass of Thanksgiving was held. F.C.J. Sisters from Ireland and abroad, past pupils, past and present staff and members of the Board of Management and Parents’ Council had the opportunity of seeing our school in the 21st century. At 5 o’clock all present gathered in the Concert Hall for a Eucharistic Celebration of Thanksgiving. Following the entrance hymn, Sr. Madeleine Ryan, fcJ, gave an informative and succinct history of the founding of the school and the FCJ Sisters work in Bunclody since 1861. A choir of 5th Years and members of the Senior Orchestra sang and played during the Mass, including solo harpist, Miriam Lambert. During the Prayer of the Faithful, we prayed for past pupils and staff, present students, staff and F.C.J. Sisters in Bunclody; the F.C.J. Sisters who played such a significant role in the life of F.C.J. Bunclody through the years; all who facilitate education in our school and the members of our school community who have passed away.
An unexpected final event took place at the Graduation Mass on May 23rd, when the Bunclody F.C.J. Sisters, Sr. Madeleine Hayes, Sr. Ger Curran, & Sr. Madeleine Ryan – the living representatives of the first seven Sisters who came in 1861 and the hundreds of Sisters since then – were presented with a piece of engraved Waterford glass in commemoration of 150 Years of F.C.J. Education in Bunclody on behalf of the 2012 Graduating class.
2011/2012 was a wonderful year of celebration to acknowledge 150 years of F.C.J. education in Bunclody. For the FCJ’s in Bunclody now it was a joy for them to welcome so many FCJ Sisters who celebrated with us at the Parish Mass, the Concert, the Re-Union and final Liturgy. It was a wonderful moment in their lives to experience afresh the heritage and legacy to which so many FCJ’s have contributed since 1861.
For the management, staff and students of the school it was a very special year of discovering the school’s history, acknowledging the F.C.J. Sisters enormous contribution to education in Bunclody and celebrating the long and fruitful journey which is enabling us to look to the future of our school with courage and confidence.