There is a phrase often incorrectly attributed to Charles Darwin but most likely to have emerged from a reading of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” by Leon C. Megginson, a business professor of Louisiana State University. Megginson observed that Darwin’s theory suggests that: it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; it is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself that survives. In a College that has seen the Great Famine come, traumatise our people, and then go, and the Spanish Flu do likewise, and so many other tremendous moments in the history of our country and world – the ability to adapt has surely been learned here.
I recall clearly standing on the glass hall on Thursday March 12th when the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that Irish schools would close with effect from 6pm that evening. In my wisdom I could see a clear logic; in closing schools then the Government, and the National Public Health Emergency Team, were cleverly buying five weeks of school closures for the cost of three: three weeks until Easter and those two Easter weeks – surely enough time to assess, understand and reopen our schools as we either defeated or learned to live with this virus.
As we now know schools remained shut for the remainder of the academic year. This Record, published November 2020, is to document the truncated academic year that was 2019-2020 – the current year will have its own at year end.
Education is one of the few areas yet to be transformed by the technological revolution that has changed so much of our everyday world. The best of education remains, for now, classrooms, teachers, students, parents, books and the spoken word. In spite of that – adapt we did! It was humbling to observe students and teachers do so much to take the education experience online: Google classroom; Zoom; Zoho Showtime and so many other truly innovative approaches to continue the learning and teaching. Was it perfect? No!
Was it ideal? No! Was it impressive? Yes! We are living though a pandemic and I am rightly proud of how: so many teachers carried their students each day; so many students engaged; parents did so much to support education; a management team, who above all else, tried to keep the lines of communication open with all the partners of education so that all knew what we knew – and when we knew it.
In spite of the abnormal nature of those strange months, a great normality was maintained. I was delighted, then, to see that we managed to acknowledge, and celebrate, the gifts and talents of our students in a week of our virtual awards ceremonies as the year wound to a close.
Since March not only has education continued but thankfully so also has many other aspects of the College life: the Design Team has successfully taken the new school build through a Pre-Stage 1 meeting with the Department of Education and Skills and are currently working towards the very significant Stage 2a meeting in the months ahead. Negotiations have continued to finalise the gifting, on College Lands in the Western Environs, of a new location for the City Vocational School and Coláiste Pobail Osraí. Much work has been done and more is to come.
St Kieran’s College continues to lie at the heart of the Diocese of Ossory as an ever expanding pastoral centre for the people of our Diocese. It is wonderful, then, to see the continued diocesan activity here: the Diocesan Forum, the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator, the Diocesan Faith Development office, and the Diocesan Retreat team all work from the College innovating and adapting so that they too can continue to help animate the life of our Diocese.
This past year has seen the Trustees, along with Bishop Dermot Farrell as our Patron, draft and approve a new Deed of Trust for the College as well as taking significant steps to ensure that the charity that is the College is best equipped to continue to fullfil its mission. Work has concluded on the renovations of the College Chapel with work soon to begin on restoring the Chapel Organ. An immense amount of work was undertaken to digitally catalogue the vast holdings of the College Archives and Archives of the President’s Office – two new purposely renovated spaces now house these collections safely.
I welcome again this year the addition of some new Trustees, in the persons of Cathal Fitzgerald, a past pupil, and Sinead Fitzmaurice, we again have added great people to help guide and direct the College. I greatly look forward to continuing to work with them and with an already greatly strengthened group of Trustees. Sadly too, however, this year saw the death of Mgr Jim Cassin a former President of the College. A man who gave over 29 years of his life to St Kieran’s College and many more to education in our Diocese and far beyond. As a friend of the College, and gladly I say of mine, his loss was sorely felt. It was wonderful that
some of our pupils in Thomastown gave a small – (as restrictions allowed) – guard of honour to recognised his immense contribution. This past year also saw the death of a great poet and much loved Deputy Principal Mr Peadar Bairéad – an icon of education, writing and a beloved, and esteemed, former colleague. We honoured his passing too as a guard of honour stood and welcome his remains through the College grounds. We said goodbye to Mr Pat Drennan, as he retired as school caretaker, who for over 23 years was a friendly face and a welcome chat as he looked after the school and its grounds. We welcome then Mr Enda Malone who takes up the role of caretaker of this iconic College in the strangest of times and with the greatest of energy. We are blessed by the people who populate these grounds.
Wonderful work continues with our Alumni Association – who sadly this year could not hold their summer reunion. There was great success too with our now annual corporate networking event in Dublin and a stand out event this past year in New York City. The Alumni Association and these events play a vital role in widening our footprint and in deepening the awareness of all that St Kieran’s College and its pupils, past and present, can achieve.
Each day I work closest with the other members of the senior management team; those whose commitment, vision and guiding hands steer this great College from its proud past through, at times a choppy present, to an ever brighter future. I thank Adrian Finan as our Principal, Ken Maher and Liam Smith as our Deputy Principals. Their love for, and selfless commitment to, this College, its pupils, your families and the countless things that this College hopes to achieve is both humbling and inspiring. These past months have shown that there is truly no end to their commitment to the College and its people, and no limit to their ability to give. Through their care, along with a wonderful staff, we, in whatever time we find ourselves, continue to relentlessly pursue the highest standards of education and the deepest care for every individual student.
We are rightly proud of our students and all they do and of all they have achieved this year. Guiding them is our honour, coaching them is our privilege, encouraging them is a simple task and enjoying the fruits of those gifts is our joy.
We have, therefore, a real debt of gratitude to the students and their Council, the parents and their Association, the School and College staff, my colleagues on the Board of Management, the Trustees, Bishop Dermot our Patron, the Alumni Association and our past pupils and all those who make St Kieran’s College the special place that it continues to be.
We pray that normality will return and we know that with this, as in previous trials, the winter will pass. Hiems Transiit.
Rev. Dr Dermot Ryan
President Chairperson, Board of Management