THE 139 year association between the Sisters of Mercy and the people of Callan came to an end on Wednesday of last week when Sr Louise Phelan retired from her teaching post ar Bunscoil McAuley-Rice.
The Sisters of Mercy came to Callan from Athy in December 1872, and took up residence in Callan Lodge, later named St. Mary’s Convent. In those days, Callan was a poverty-stricken town like so many towns across the country recovering from the hard times of the Famine and many eked out a marginal existence. Unemployment and poverty led to malnutrition, which in turn, resulted in much sickness, particularly T.B.
On January 1st 1873, just six weeks after their arrival in Callan the Sisters of Mercy undertook the education of Callan infants and girls. The Callan School progressed rapidly and the numbers enrolled had risen from 180 (in 1871) to 370 in 1877.
Up to last week, there had always been a member of the Mercy Order on the staff of the primary school in Callan. Sr. Louise began her own journey on the road of education at the tender age of three. She enrolled in her native primary school in Ballacolla, Co. Laois and continued her education as far as the Inter Cert at home in Laois.
She then moved to St. Brigid’s College, Callan to complete her Leaving Certificate. After the Leaving Cert, at the wise old age of 17 , she entered the Convent of Mercy and immediately began her teaching career. The first class she taught was a third class.
Those were different times in our country in 1966. The Late Late Show was only four years old, Eamon De Valera was president, Nelson’s Pillar was blown up on O’Connell Street ,England won the world Cup ,Cork beat Kilkenny 3-9 to 1-10 in the hurling All Ireland and Sr. Louise Phelan taught classes of up to 72 children in one room.
From 1969 to 1971 , Sr. Louise went to further her education and get her third level degree. She returned to Callan until 1977 when she was transferred to Ballyragget. In 1980 , the Mercy Order asked her to go to Prince George in Canada. The Mercy had schools in Canada from 1957 to 2007. Sr. Louise spent two years in Canada and then returned to become principal of the primary school in Borris in Ossory.
In 1984 , she returned to Callan to teach in the primary school by day and run the boarding school in St. Brigid’s by night. She became principal of Scoil Mhuire in Callan in 1992. For the following 12 years, she enlightened the children of Callan until she decided to take a career break in 2004. For the 2006-2007 school year , she taught in the presentation Primary School in Kilkenny.
The two primary schools in Callan opened as an amalgamated school in September, 2007 and Sr. Louise returned to continue her life’s work where it all started originally. Parents,students,staff members past and present gathered to wish her well in her retirement. They offered their gratitude and good wishes for the future.
Their thoughts were expressed in a final farewell through the following Retirement Prayer which is echoed by all those who know Sr. Louise: