Tributes have been paid and warm wishes offered as the principal of Mount St Catherine’s Primary School in Armagh retires from the top post.
Peter Gildea is stepping down 11 years after taking up the position.
There has been a week of bitter-sweet celebrations as the school and local community celebrated and wished him well on the next stage of his career.
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Mr Gildea, who has been thoroughly committed to and enjoyed his time in his parish school, has decided it is time to move into a different area of education. He will work as a Professional Associate for CCMS and the Education Authority in the coming year.
He said: “It is very difficult to leave Mt. St. Catherine’s as it is in my home parish and is the school where my own children attended.
“The school became an extension to my own home and is a place I will always cherish.
“In particular, I will miss the children in the school, the many extra-curricular experiences, the routine of the school and the vibrant school ethos where the welfare of the school family is paramount.
“Our teaching and support staff have been outstanding in every way and I thank them so much for their professionalism, passion, advice, creativity, determination and their continuous demonstration of a high work ethic. Many friendships have grown over the years and I hope they will last beyond my leaving.
“I also want to acknowledge the continuous support of parents who have always recognized the importance of partnership in the education process.
“The governors have been a constant support in the background for myself and indeed all staff. I sincerely thank this extraordinary panel for their wisdom, professional insights and advice.
“Finally, I thank God for my health and my experience in Mt. St. Catherine’s and I wish all every blessing as we continue to battle through the difficult circumstances of this Covid-19 pandemic.”
The school community were surprised and saddened when he announced his intended retirement but all wish him health and happiness in all his new ventures.
Mr Gildea began his teaching career locally in the CBS Greenpark, where he taught for 10 years under the principalship of Mr McArdle and Mr Keogh.
In August 2000, aged only 32, he took up his first principal post in St James’ Primary School, Tandragee. He held two further principal posts, in St John’s PS Kingsisland and St Patrick’s Primary in Crossmaglen.
In January 2010 he began his tenure as the first male principal of Mount Saint Catherine’s PS in Armagh.
The school on Windmill Hill has an historic building and a longstanding legacy of Sacred Heart education. Mr Gildea embraced this valuable heritage while always seeking to develop the school where possible.
One of his proudest achievements must be the development of the Little Buds Playgroup, now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Throughout his time, Mr Gildea encouraged the continuous professional development of staff and maintained the setting of high standards for all pupils.
During his time, Mount St Catherine’s received two inspection reports that were excellent with many outstanding features. The management and leadership of the school, in particular, were highly praised on both occasions.
This multi-cultural and diverse school prides itself on its inclusiveness and under Mr Gildea became one of the flagship schools in the EA open ‘Welcoming Schools’ initiative.
During his principalship the school also achieved its first ‘Green Flag’, was awarded The Active School Award, became a UNICEF Rights Respecting School and led an exciting international Comenius project with other European schools for several years.
Determined that Mount St. Catherine’s would continue to develop as a true community school linked to its Parish, other schools and sport and community organisations, Mr Gildea worked especially closely within the wider community.
The school consistently developed creative projects with Armstrong Primary School and Lisanally Special School as well as creative staff professional development projects.
Over the years, family and fundraising events were a fantastic example of community work- ‘Halloween Spooktacular’, ‘The School Around the Corner’ and more recently ‘The Big Fake Wedding’ events that raised vital funds to support school projects. Together with creative and hard-working staff, Mr Gildea was happy to promote whole school musicals such as The Lion King and The Wizard of Oz in the Market Place Theatre.
Senior pupils were also the first in Armagh to take part in ‘The Shakespeare in Schools’ projects when they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Market Place Theatre. Drama and music continue to thrive during Mr Gildea’s principalship.
Mr Gildea was always keen for the school to participate in pastoral and family-based programmes such as Roots of Empathy and FAST (Families And School Together) – all projects aimed at enhancing the life chances of the pupils.
During this particular challenging period of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Gildea, working with a dedicated and committed staff, was able to offer a model of blended learning for pupils and facilitated access by supporting families. The health, well-being and resilience of the pupils and staff was given top priority at this time, as children were supported in their learning and emotional wellbeing.
Mr Gildea, as a person of deep faith himself, ensured the flourishing of parish family and community links during his time as principal.
Worship and prayer and more importantly the living out of a true Catholic ethos underpinned the life of the school. The Sacred Heart ethos and goals were pivotal and foundational in the life of the school in his time.
Sr. Nora Smyth RSCJ, Board of Governors commented: “He was definitely a man of great faith who bought into the Sacred Heart Heritage, and resulting from this, made the horizon possible.
“In relation to the pupils, he had the ability to share his faith with them. He seems to have shown a great sense of loyalty to the staff and when it came to mixing with the staff from other Sacred Heart schools, he did so with ease.”
The school community of children and staff held a poignant and joyful outdoor event on Tuesday, June 22.
There was a wonderful Flash Mob dance led by P6 pupils, some past pupils returned to perform a specially choreographed dance while the school choir sang ‘A Celtic Blessing’.
The head boy, Daithi Gillespie and head girl, Jaime Greene, made speeches of thanks and many gifts were presented including a framed sketch of the school, an oak tree, a personalised book of memories and a beautiful sculpture in bronze .
On Monday past, Mass was celebrated by Rev Fr Peter McAnenly assisted by Deacon Paul Mallon in St Patrick’s Cathedral. This was a joy-filled blessing attended by many members of the community, Mr Gildea’s family and representatives of the many lives touched by his time as principal.
A celebratory tea followed in the school playground , bathed in sunshine. There many memories were shared and speeches given by Ms Averil Morrow, Board of Governors, Mrs Anne Marie McLaughlin, vice principal and of course by Mr Gildea himself.
Averil Morrow, Chair of BOG, said: “The Board of Governors would like to thank Peter for his commitment to the school and its Sacred Heart ethos.
“He has worked hard during his time at the school, showing strong leadership and dedication to Mount St Catherine’s pupils and staff. We would like to wish him the best for the next stage of his professional journey.”
The Board of Governors presented Mr Gildea with a beautiful Japanese Maple Tree at the retirement tea on Monday.
The whole school community wishes Mr Gildea all health and happiness in the future, thanking him for all he gave so generously:
“Great hearts, generous hearts, are required in the family of God’s Heart.” St Madeleine Sophie Barat , foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart