ONe of the biggest cheers of the night at the Fr McGrath Centre’s awards night on Friday came as a complete surprise to the person who received it. Sr Mary Bourke has spent a lifetime dedicated to the education and development of children and young people as a primary and secondary school teacher with the St. John of God Order and now wth the Fr McGrath Centre and was taken abcakc when her name was called out by the manager of the Fr McGrath Centre.
“Sr Mary retired to Kilkenny 17 years ago, where one of the first things she did was respond to a news item in the Kilkenny People about a new family centre looking for volunteer tutors,” Steve Murphy pointed out.
“The tutors were needed to run a community pilot programme to help primary school children falling behind in school. Her involvement in that first pilot and her subsequent role in helping us develop a relationship with schools, recruit support and train the many hundreds of tutors made her one of the most important and influential of any volunteer to ever become involved in any community project in Kilkenny.
“Sr. Mary also spent a great deal of her first years of her retirement in conducting a major study on behalf of the Marino Institute on the issue of early school leaving and the causes underlying young people dropping out of school and underachieving academically. This very important and significant piece of research helped better inform and equip us to deal with an issue so close to our heart and hers. It also helped form many of the responses we now see in Kilkenny City to this most serious of social issues, and a key factor behind the social marginalisation in many communities in our City. She rightly was awarded a special Kilkenny Person of the year award in 2000 for her work on these projects. Mary is also very active as a befriending volunteer with our centre based Kilkenny Carlow Contact Services for Older People,” Mr Murphy said.
Thanks to Sr. Mary and her efforts and the many volunteers like her who have worked on the programme, hundreds of local children have been helped to catch up and stay up with their classmates and leave school with a qualification. “When we started this programme our local community had some of the highest rates of early school leaving in the country. Over the past 17 years Sr. Mary has kept our children in her prayers and in her heart. “She has never asked for any reward save to serve our community and it’s children, however, tonight it’s time to honour the person who has been tireless in helping us to eliminate early school leaving in this and other communities for ever,” Mr Murphy said.
She was then presented with her award by Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald.