Crest Sancta Maria College


Ireland’s First Catholic Co-Educational Secondary School

We celebrated in 2019 our Centenary and official opening of our new school building.

A message from former SMC teacher, Fr Kieran Waldron:

On this Feast day of the Our Lady of the Rosary, 7 October 2019, I wish to extend my greetings to you all on this centenary day of the arrival of two Sisters of Mercy in Louisburgh, which began the revolution of the first Catholic Secondary Co-Educational School in Ireland in 1919, originally called Holy Rosary Secondary School, but more familiarly known as ‘The Convent’.

Original Convent Building

Original Convent Building and ‘Workroom’ as it was in 1926


New Building Entrance 2019

New Building Entrance 2019

One hundred years ago...


...two Mercy Sisters travelled from their convent in Tuam to Louisburgh, Co Mayo and made the decision to set up a school. Mother M. Gertrude Chambers and Sr Columba Waldron arrived by side-car on October 7th 1919. They were then followed on 1st November by Sister Michael Mannion and Sr Veronica Lynagh. From its foundation, the Sisters and school established strong links with the local community. In addition, Mother Gertrude established a very successful small knitting industry to give some local employment. In addition, the well-established love for music and creativity was first fostered when Sr. Michael immediately began teaching music.

An historic announcement was made at Masses in June 1920 that a Secondary School was to be established. By late 1920, the Sisters held their first classes in the dining room of McDermott’s Hotel (now West View Accommodation). Both boys and girls were accepted, making this the first co-educational secondary school in Ireland.

By 1924, building had begun for a new convent and school where funding was raised by loans, and donations from across the diocese. Community-based fundraising played a crucial role with local collections, bazaars, raffles and the funds of the ‘Louisburgh Races’. This local fundraising succeeded in raising several hundred pounds to a backdrop of widespread poverty locally in the early 1920s.

In 1960, the ‘Sancta Maria’ building was built and in effect, school authorities adopted this name as the official name for the school. This new building along with utilising the disused Parochial House - ‘St. Pats’ created more space. This allowed the school to become a boarding school for a number of students from the islands and students who had no transport. Again, the school in Louisburgh broke new ground - the only co-educational Catholic boarding school in Ireland. On 15th November 1984, work began on a new extension which was completed in March 1986.

The first intake comprised twenty pupils.

In 2019: The Centenary celebration and our new building


sancta maria louisburgh school michael ring

Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring speaking at the official opening of Sancta Maria College’s new building.


In 2019, Sancta Maria saw the opening of a new school building to cater for its 500 strong enrollment. The official opening, performed by Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring T.D., was part of the centenary celebration of the Mercy sisters arrival in Louisburgh. Minister Ring welcomed the Mercy sisters in attendance and acknowledged the work of Principal Pauline Moran and former Principals in bringing the plans for a new school building to life.

sancta maria louisburgh website school

Nuala O’ Loughlin former teacher, Pauline Moran (Principal) and John Lyons former deputy principal.

Mrs Moran congratulated the Mercy Order for their part in the school reaching this very significant milestone of becoming 100 years old.

“It is a testament to the years of dedication by the Mercy Order who had the vision to found a school in a small rural town”, she said. Mrs Moran said that students remain at the heart of the work of all staff in the school. Teaching and Learning are key to preparing students for life in the future. She said “We give them the skills to deal with 21st century Ireland. We believe in the wellbeing and holistic development of all”

Among the speakers on the day was historian Fr Kieran Waldron, who had taught in the school for seventeen years; former principal Sr Ann Feighney spoke about her time at the helm and Mr. Gerry McGuill who spoke on behalf of CEIST.

sancta maria louisburgh website

Principal Pauline Moran (centre) with Mrs Norah Hawkes and Mrs Brid Love, students of Sancta Maria College in the 1930s

Among the special guests was 99 year old Nora Hawkes, who attended the school in the early 30s and went on to own her own school in Askeaton, retiring at 74 and going on to volunteer as a teacher in Africa. Mrs Hawkes and another of our oldest former pupils, Mrs Brid Love, were presented with a bouquet from First Year students.

Student Council Chairman Conor Clarke was MC for the event

Student Council Chairman Conor Clarke was MC for the event.

sancta maria louisburgh school website orchestra

Sancta Maria College school orchestra performing at the official opening at the new building

The Students Council presented a time capsule containing items which represent 2019 to them. Student Council Chairperson Conor Clarke did an excellent job as Master of Ceremonies for the event while the school orchestra, in collaboration with Louisburgh School of Music,  performed ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script. The school choir, conducted by Ms Catherine Conway, performed the new school anthem which was specially written by the students themselves. The ceremony concluded with the blessing of the new building by Fr Mattie Long and the official opening by Minister Ring.

The Mercy Sisters established our school as a trailblazer in education as Ireland’s First Catholic Co-Educational Secondary School along with developing enduring community links.

As we embark into the next century, we will proudly progress this strong heritage as envisioned at our foundation.

School Interior
School interior