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“The two hardest things to say in life are hello for the first time and goodbye for the last.” Moira Rogers.

The first week of December 2020 will forever be marked in the heart of our school community as we wished a fond farewell to our principal of ten years, Ms Marese Bell.

Despite the difficulty presented by the current pandemic in terms of restrictions, meticulous planning saw that students, staff and the wider Loreto community got an opportunity to extend their well wishes to Ms Bell before her final departure from the office on Friday afternoon.

On Monday, our school’s Student Leadership Team – Health Promoting Schools Team, Student Council and Fifth Year mentors – invited Ms Bell to the inaugural illumination of the Loreto Christmas tree outside reception, an idea incepted by our chaplain, Sr Anna McAuliffe. A short ceremony ensued, and Ms Bell lit the lights on the tree for the first time – an event that we hope to continue annually in her honour. Following this, Ms Bell was invited to visit First Year classes under the mentorship of Ms Bridie Smyth who extended their goodbyes and well wishes. After school, Ms Bell chaired her final staff meeting via Zoom, where she expressed sincere words of thanks, gratitude and encouragement to staff, and words of warm congratulations to Ms Sinéad Lawlor, formally welcoming her as our new school principal.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw Ms Bell’s final Board of Management meeting, and her visit to Second Years, Third Years and Fifth Years under the respective guidance of Ms Fidelma Murphy, Ms Sinéad Hyland and Ms Therese O’Keeffe, where she was presented with gifts and cards aplenty. Again, Zoom proved invaluable as assemblies are not possible at the minute, and the technology allowed certain groups to witness the small student representatives present gifts to Ms Bell safely before she visited classes and wished students well in their futures. And on Thursday, it was the turn of our Transition Year students and our Sixth Years, mentored by Ms Catherine Gallagher and Ms Ber O’Connor respectively, to wish adieu to our principal in a similar fashion. The outpouring of thanks, appreciation and well wishes from our students was a fitting tribute for a much loved principal, and mark these students as the essence of what makes Loreto College’s management and staff so proud of the school in which we work. Ms Bell was overwhelmed by the many gifts she received from the students and their Year Heads, each holding special significance, but special mention must be given to Cynthia and Gertrude – two ducks given to Ms Bell by our Transition Years!

The week’s farewells culminated on Friday, commencing with a prayer over the intercom said by Sr Anna, who added to her prayerful words in reciting the first two stanzas of the late John O’Donohue’s “Blessing For Retirement” (click here for the full text).The highlight of the week was in the afternoon when our senior students formed a guard of honour for Ms Bell from the reception door, along the tree-lined avenue and around our gymnasium, and Ms Bell addressed the school community gathered (socially distanced!) on the hockey pitch. In her words of farewell, Ms Bell expressed her heartfelt thanks, appreciation, best wishes to staff and students, and revealed the great news that Cynthia had laid her first egg! Ms O’Grady, Ms Callaghan and our three Head Girls, Angel, Nour, and Kate spoke on behalf of staff and students.

Afterwards, staff and Loreto sisters gathered in the school’s GP area and presented gifts to Ms Bell who made her final address as principal. Whilst the Moira Rogers’ quotation above states the very real difficulties in that first ‘hello’, Ms Bell spoke fondly of the first ‘hello’ she received from staff as principal of Loreto College from Ms Mary Galvin, and anyone who has ever met Ms Galvin will know that the kindness that would have marked this greeting paved the way for Ms Bell’s comfortable transition into Loreto College Mullingar’s staff. This speech was affably followed by a poem read by Ms Smyth written about Ms Bell, recounting snippets from her life and career as an Irish and Geography teacher and as school principal – a touching finalé to a week of goodbyes.

Sincere thanks is extended to our Deputy Principals, Ms O’Grady and Ms Callaghan, our Year Heads, Sr Anna, the school’s social committee, staff, and most of all to our students for the wonderful send-off extended to Ms Bell over the entire week. The endeavours on Ms Bell’s behalf were truly fitting and deserving of a fabulous school leader, guide, and role-model over the last decade.

To Ms Bell on behalf of the entire school community – Gabhaimid buíochas ó chroí leat as ucht gach rud a rinne tú dár scoil agus guímid gach beannacht agus rath ort amach anseo.