Celebrating 50 years of Teresian Education:

Ciara Brown Past Pupil (1980) – Correspondent for the 50th Celebrations Committee

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Thursday 25th February saw the second major event celebrating 50 years of the Teresian School take place. This was an evening of reflection on Teresian education in the school hall, featuring contributions from a panel of four past pupils, Deirdre O’Gorman, Karen Banks, Catherine Godson and Cliona Lorton.

To be honest, I had wondered as I headed for the event, whether it might all turn out to be a bit earnest and academic. I could not have been more wrong. We were treated to a remarkable occasion. Speaking to a packed hall, Guillermina Damas first addressed the audience with a most interesting reflection on Pedro Poveda and his vision for women’s education. His ideas were provocative and ahead of their time, she argued. He had high ideals and high expectations for us. He showed us how to be truly human, which is built on the God dimension in our lives. He demanded that we continually learn.

Then the four past pupils from different eras, none of whom knew one another or had prior opportunity to consult on their addresses, spoke. They echoed each other with quite startling similarity about what it means to have experienced a Teresian education . They all spoke about how the values instilled in them long ago have carried them forwards in life. The women were inspirational. They were emotional. Clearly, the invitation to speak had caused each of them to reflect on her life and work and on the contribution her Teresian education had made to shaping her. And each, in her own way, was clearly moved by those reflections.

Deirdre O’Gorman’s descriptions of the privations she encountered in Africa were stunning. Her explanation of what she learned was equally thought-provoking though. She said she had learned to understand the difference between ‘what we need, and what we want’. Cliona Lorton works in what must be one of the toughest branches of medicine, but is herself a joyful, fun person and told her stories with humour and grace.

Between them they said a great deal but I think the overriding messages that emerged were three. Girls from the Teresian School graduated full of confidence and hope, fully believing in their own potential, and without any fears that they might experience sexist discrimination or other roadblocks to advancement. Fearless, was the word Catherine Godson used to describe Teresian girls. All of them, clearly, emerged from school with a strong sense of self and ambitions for a successful career.

Catherine also talked about students’ abiding appreciation of Suzanne McGowan’s influence on their lives. She was extraordinary for her dynamism, integrity and dedication to every single girl who passed through the school. Every person was treated with such respect. She enabled them all to be the best they could be, from the inside out. Catherine also paid tribute to the camaraderie and the enduring friendships of school.

How was such innate confidence and hope instilled in these girls at school? Through respect. All four past pupils referred to being respected – as young adults (not talked down to or dismissed as merely children), respected for their opinions and encouraged to treat others with respect too. Karen said that this emphasis on always respecting others helped her with the difficult task of managing others in her work; Catherine said the same thing as she talked of collaboration and teamwork in scientific research and of her role mentoring young researchers and PhD students.

A lovely aspect too, was the opportunity seized by the speakers to thank the school for some truly inspirational teaching. The three scientists acknowledged their debt to Anne, Anne Marie and Brenda . Cliona Lorton also mentioned the Teresian women as role models – it never occurred to her that she would not work and have an independent career and an independent income. Catherine talked of the love of poetry instilled in her by Mrs McGarry and Karen mentioned her facility with languages nourished at school, which has underpinned her successful career at the European Commission.

At the end of the evening, Anthony made it clear that this legacy, these Teresian values must be protected and fostered for the future; that the school’s spirit will continue to flourish for the coming generations.

Rarely have I been so pierced by joy at an occasion like this. The atmosphere in the hall was tangible. Not only were the women outstanding speakers and highly impressive, successful career women, but they inspired a sense of joy and pride in being Teresian in everyone who heard them last Thursday night.

Deirdre O’Gorman, GP, Master’s in Public Health, volunteer in Africa;

Karen Banks, Deputy Director General of the Legal Service European Commission;

Catherine Godson, Professor of Molecular Medicine and former Vice-President of UCD;

Cliona Lorton, Clinical Lecturer in Palliative Medicine, TCD

The evening was chaired by Guillermina Damas, a member of the Teresian Association and former Professor of Mathematics in Miami Dade College, Florida.