Sisters of Mercy return to St Columba’s High School Mitchell 50 years Reunion


During the October long weekend, a school reunion was held to celebrate 50 years since the opening of St Columba’s High School in Mitchell in 1964.  The weekend commenced with a Mass at St Columba’s Church at 11am concelebrated by Fr Jamie Collins and Fr Peter Doohan.  It was a wonderful thanksgiving Mass with a large crowd present.

Following Mass it was off to St Patrick’s School where the School held a fete and there was a room set up of old school photos and memorabilia.  A large crowd attended and it proved to be a very nostalgic visit for those attending with former classmates catching up and reminiscing of their school days and youth. On Saturday evening over 250 people gathered at the showgrounds pavilion for a night of entertainment and joy for a Mitchell Reunion.  Many people travelled from far and wide to the Reunion and it was a demonstration of the great affection for the place Mitchell holds in people’s hearts.

A huge thank you must go to all those involved in the organization of this event.  In particular, Rosalie Sharpe who was the stalwart in making the Reunion happen.  To co-ordinate such an event takes a lot of work and congratulations are in order for Rosalie.  Also to the Principal of St Patricks, Vanessa Alexander and her team from the school in making the fete such a fantastic success, and to all the other organizations, people who undertook tasks in anyway a big thank you - you all know who you are.

It was wonderful to have present five Sisters of Mercy to share in the celebrations - Pauline Smoothy, Patricia Sullivan, Esther Dowling, Elizabeth O’Keefe and Nora Fitzgibbon and we thank them.

Donna Burke, one of the last students to attend St Columba’s High School delivered the following welcome to open the Mass.

Donna Burke with Sr Pauline Smoothy

“Good morning everyone. It is my privilege to welcome you all to this our special Eucharistic Celebration to mark 50 years since the opening of St Columba’s High School in Mitchell.

For those of you who don’t know me or can’t remember me, my name is Donna Witt and I was a student firstly at St Patrick’s Primary School from 1964 until 1970 then a student of St Columba’s High School from 1971 to 1973. I am married to Jim Burke who also attended both schools, and for a significant proportion of his time he was a boarder at the convent.

 Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the original custodians of the land upon which we gather.  We acknowledge their living culture and unique role in the life of this region and offer our deep appreciation for their contribution to and support of our pastoral care and ministry.

 Secondly, the main reason we are here is because our education at St Columba’s holds something dear and special to us. A 50th reunion is something unique in history and 50 years is certainly more than a few years.  I was just five and in Grade 1 taught by Sr Martina (sadly who passed away only very recently) when the high school was opened and I can still vividly remember that day when I lined up in a guard of honour in my fawn school uniform and green felt hat from the convent gate to the newly built high school, and Bishop Brennan walked through with important dignataries and guests to open the school.  Our parish priest at the time and if I am correct it was Father Callaghan along with others, had the vision and foresight to establish a Catholic high school. In 1972, after nine years, a decision was made to close the school at the end of 1973 thus allowing those students in year 10 to complete their junior education.  A further decision was made, however, to close the school in June 1973.  School Principals during those years were Sr  Mary Nivard, Sr Mary William and Sr Mary St Keiran.

I was one of the very last students to attend St Columba’s High along with Gayle Nimmo, Sandra McCarrol, Joanne McHugh and Peggy Short and after June 1973 Gayle, Sandra and myself continued our education at St Mary’s High School in Ipswich, while Joanne attended the Mitchell State School and Peggy attended St Ursulas in Toowoomba.

 We are all here because we are thankful for the role St Columba’s High School has played in our formative years and development. No doubt we have many stories to share, reminiscing and have done some daydreaming about those good old school days.  Back then it was up in the morning and off to school where our teachers taught us many golden rules and instilled qualities and values that lie within us today.  As classmates we shared many happy times in our youth and I am sure we can recall school assemblies, school sports days, being taught to march by Mr Kennett, football, basketball, tennis, concerts, plays, our academic achievements, the mischievious times and the emphasis on Christian values to name a few.

Since that opening 50 years ago we have gone our separate ways and lived different lives in pursuit of our dreams, goals and interests and across those years we have all had our share of successes, challenges and crosses to bear. Sometimes our journeys may not have been easy and we have been given strength and hope and, on the balance, life has been good.  One thing we all share and have in common is that we received our foundation from the same place, St Columba’s High School.  Many of you would have formed life long friendships at school and here today we come together after 50 years to celebrate, reconnect with those we have not seen for a long time and give thanks that we have been blessed with such an opportunity to be here with former classmates.  Time seems to have flown over those five decades and many a pearl of wisdom has been gained. Your attendance today demonstrates the value St Columba’s High School played in your lives.

Thirdly, the Sisters of Mercy deserve special mention and we are privileged to have some of the Sisters of Mercy with us today - Pauline Smoothy, Patricia Sullivan, Esther Dowing, Elizabeth O’Keefe and Nora Fitzgibbon.  The Sisters of Mercy came to Mitchell in 1925 and left in the early 1990s.  We say thanks to the Sisters of Mercy for their dedication and commitment.  They followed the teachings of their founder Catherine McAuley and carried on her work rich in the mercy traditions of leading the example of Jesus in all that we do, instilling in us the values of faith, generosity, hospitality, humanity and courage.  We were taught compassion for others, excellence in doing the best we could to make a difference to our own lives and that of others, respecting others, being gentle and kind and acting with justice and fairness in everything we do.  In our academic learning they inspired us to reach our potential.

We give thanks as we begin this Eucharistic Celebration for the many blessings we received in a sound and strong education within the catholic context, for the smooth transition between our primary and secondary school years, for the friendships made, for the gifts we have been given, for the generous contributions made and we also pray for those former students who have died.

As we journey on, may your tomorrows be one of fulfillment and great joy, and may the years beyond be some of the best years of your lives.

Let us all now stand for the entrance hymn ‘Here I am, Lord’.”


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