St Mary of the Angels Guyra celebrates its 100th birthday

OLDEST AND YOUNGEST: 102-year-old ex-pupil Ted Mulligan and Chase Martin cut St Mary's 100th birthday cake. Photo: Nicholas Fuller
OLDEST AND YOUNGEST: 102-year-old ex-pupil Ted Mulligan and Chase Martin cut St Mary's 100th birthday cake. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

One hundred years ago next month, Ursuline nuns set up a little school in their Guyra convent.

This weekend, principals, teachers, and students past and present celebrated the centenary of St Mary of the Angels Guyra.

"It has been a very proud, special weekend," principal Sharon Wittig said.

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The little school opened on a cold, grey morning on July 7, 1919. It was, for a time, Guyra's only secondary school (from 1921, reverting to a primary school in 1958). The Sisters of Mercy took over the school in 1969, while it became a lay Catholic school in 1980. Today, it has 91 pupils (14 in transition).

With a century's history, there was plenty to celebrate this weekend.

EDUCATORS: Principal Sharon Wittig and Paul Holman, Catholic Schools Office Diocese of Armidale. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

EDUCATORS: Principal Sharon Wittig and Paul Holman, Catholic Schools Office Diocese of Armidale. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

Almost 220 people attended a four-course dinner at the Guyra Community Hall on Saturday night - a fundraiser for an excursion to Canberra.

"Times are a little tough at the moment," Mrs Wittig said, "so we wanted to make sure that every child gets the opportunity to go."

Sunday morning began with mass at St Mary's Church. Monsignor Edward Wilkes, vicar-general, unveiled a centenary plaque.

"He and I worked here together in my very early years," Mrs Wittig said. "He was fundamental in us building the new school. We couldn't do that without the support of the parish, as well as the community."

PRIEST: Monsignor Wilkes blessing the centenary plaque. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

PRIEST: Monsignor Wilkes blessing the centenary plaque. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

Mrs Wittig, Monsignor Wilkes, diocesan director Christopher Smyth, parish priest Father Stephen O'Shea, and school advisory chairperson Craig Lockyer planted five trees in a centenary garden - made possible by a donation from an ex-pupil.

"Hopefully it will last for another 50 years!" Mrs Wittig said. "That will make another little slice of history."

The oldest ex-pupil, 102-year-old Ted Mulligan, and its youngest, Chase Martin, his family's third generation to attend, cut the school's 100th birthday cake.

Students sang and danced round a maypole, and played traditional games like croquet. There was an exhibition of memorabilia in the parochial hall, which used to be the primary school.

On display were an old school desk and bell; pens and tickets from 1919; dolls, wooden blocks, and other toys; sports trophies; photographs of students through the decades; chalices and altar-cloths; and century-old copies of this very newspaper.

For many, the greatest pleasure was catching up with old friends, and remembering happy times.

Yvonne Mowle was the school's second-longest-serving teacher, from 1978 to 2003.

Former principal Lee Herden, kindergarten teacher Matthew Frizell, and former teacher Yvonne Mowle. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

Former principal Lee Herden, kindergarten teacher Matthew Frizell, and former teacher Yvonne Mowle. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

Her husband was Guyra's ambulance officer in the 1960s, and her two eldest children went to St Mary's. They moved to Inverell, but she later came back to teach.

"It was a great little school," she said. "The kids made it special."

Sister Anthony Mary was the last nun principal. The Sister of Mercy taught kindergarten, first and second grade from 1976 to 1979.

Last nun principal Sister Anthony Mary, Bev Moore, Elaine Sole

Last nun principal Sister Anthony Mary, Bev Moore, Elaine Sole

"I loved my time here," she said. "I loved the country, the children, and their parents."

It was lovely to come back and see people she hadn't talked to for 40 years; children she taught now have their own families, and may even go to St Mary's.

Mrs Wittig hopes the school will continue to grow; numbers are looking strong for the next couple of years.

"It's full to the brim at the moment," she said.

They've already changed the library into a classroom - and, if they keep growing, the next library might also become another classroom.

She thanked everyone involved in making the weekend so successful.

"Guyra is a very special community, and when we have something to celebrate, these people turn up in numbers," Mrs Wittig said. "We are extremely thankful to everyone who turned up this weekend to help us celebrate."