If Kathleen Gormley said goodbye to St Cecilia’s College with a heavy heart on Thursday, it was, she says, because her heart is full of hundreds of warm memories of the school she has come to love over the past 25 years.
It was an emotional day for students, teachers and parents, but no one was more touched by the send-off than Kathleen herself, who even broke one of her own rules by signing an autograph on the shirt of a student.
“They knew I just couldn’t say no on my own last day,” laughed Kathleen, who will take up a new post in Belfast in September.
The popular principal said the bittersweet occasion was one which will stay with her far beyond the gates of the Bligh’s Lane school
“It was very emotional but I got the best send off in history. It was a day that was very personal to all of us. The children and the staff asked me questions about my first memories of St Cecilia’s from all those years ago and they had so many photographs of all my time there. It was just so lovely.
“I’ll be sad to leave because the children are just so affectionate and St Cecilia’s is part of the most fantastic community. It wouldn’t be the school it is today if it wasn’t for the people in that community and I really hope they feel that they got what they deserved from the St Cecilia’s because the people of Creggan really are the best.”
Ms. Gormley, who became principal at St Cecilia’s in 1992 after having taught there since 1985, said her saddest moments there had been the tragic death of pupil Michaela Bradley and the recent death of former principal Mamie Pederson.
“No teacher wants to see one of their own pupils buried and that was a really difficult time for everyone in the school, as was the recent death of Mrs. Pederson,” she said.
She said one of her happiest memories of her time at the Creggan school was an impromptu sing song which took place during her first week as a history teacher during her very first week as a history teacher in the school, as she explained.
“The girls asked if they could sing me a song and they sang ‘The Town I love so well,’ and I remember really being struck by the talented Derry people around me. Then this week, as I left, the pupils sang me the same song and it really felt as if I’d come full cirlce. It was so touching and very emotional,” she added.
The former St Cecilia’s principal will enjoy the summer break before taking up a new post at Hazelwood Integrated College in North Belfast in September,