When Sister Assumpta watches the dozens of girls in their trademark blue blazer making their way to and from St Mary’s College she can’t help but smile.
“I take credit for introducing that blue blazer,” she said.
The Derry nun and former teacher of the school was the woman who came up with the design, making St Mary’s the first secondary school in the town to adopt a blazer.
“I love to see the girls in the blue blazer and I still feel a real identity with St Mary’s even though I have been out of the school for decades.”
On Friday night Sister Assumpta joined the Class of 64 for a reunion at the City Hotel.
It was a time for stories and memories to be shared, and for Sister Assumpta, a time to reflect on the strong women that the school has helped to shape since it first opened in 1959.
“I still call the class of 64 ‘girls’,” said Sr. Assumpta. “Even though these women are now grown up and some of them grannies.”
One of the questions that kept cropping up on Friday night to Sister Assumpta was ‘how are you keeping?’
And in her usual witty answer Sister Assumpta said: “I am keeping well. I need my glasses, and I have two hearing aids. But I have no false teeth and I don’t need a zimmer so I’m grateful to God. Sometimes the words I want to say don’t come easy anymore but that’s all part of ageing. I’m suffering from a condition called TMB - too many birthdays!”
Sister Assumpta arrived at St Mary’s College in 1962, having previously taught at St Eugene’s.
“Education was changing at that time,” she said. “I was sent to Belfast where they were running courses to train people for the secondary sector. I was taught shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and commerce. At St Mary’s I was in the commerce department, I also taught R.E. and looked after the library, a job I enjoyed. I became vice principal and when Sister Aloysious received a scholarship to Yale, I filled in as principal. It was during the Troubles but all the schools did their best to make sure there was as much peace as possible.”
In 1986 St Mary’s decided to move from the old uniform and adopt the blazer. “Blue for Our Lady,” said Sister Assumpta.
She revealed that in the early days many of the pupils came from large families and there was an expectation on the girls to find work.
“Today economically it is better,” she said. “There are more opportunities for the girls. I am so happy that this development has happened and there has been a recognition of the true value of education. We tried to help the girls along and it has worked well. When I looked around the table at the City Hotel last week I just thought about the girls and how many people their lives have influenced over the years.
“Within minutes of our meeting again the girls had all gelled and I attribute that ease to the community spirit that was always there and is still at St Mary’s. These women touched so many lives and it is a privilege to have known them.”
Sister Assumpta paid tribute to the organisers of last weeks reunion: Philomena O’Kane, Linda Doherty, Una Macmillan and Stella Brearty, who planned every detail. She said they had also paused to remember members of the class of 64 who have now passed away.