On Friday, February 5: 2016, 11 RNDMs gathered to celebrate our 68 years of presence and ministry, and pending closure in Leyland, Nr Preston, Lancashire. Gathering in St Mary’s Church, Leyland was like coming to an end of a journey. As a former pupil of St Catherine’s Secondary School, Oaklands, we used to walk to St Mary’s for various events, enjoying the novel architecture of a round church, which to us in the 1960s, was a new phenomenon. For two years four of us who boarded in St Catherine’s Convent, then called Juvenists (pre-novitiate), used to travel back and forth to St Mary’s for Mass, Confession and for other activities
The recent closing of the community house in Oaklands, once our school premises, was certainly a closure of a life-time of happy memories we had as girls climbing up and down that wonderful staircase, and by sliding down the bannisters to help keep it’s shine when we four had to go over to clean the classrooms after our afternoon tea: all done after the other students had long gone home. Mrs Mary McDonald, (Sr Pauline McDonald’s mother) always had her home-made cakes at the ready after our cleaning sprees: the smell of her black coffee always inviting! The classrooms had their own character and design and each room was crammed with desks with the built in inkwells and bench-like seats, plus wooden floors that had to be swept clean and polished each day, all adding to the quaintness of the place.
The unique fireplaces always attracted my attention as I would sit for hours studying the tiles all depicting something of the nature of the building and seeing each fireplace somehow relating to the name – Oaklands! The first room as you entered the main entrance was used mainly for school visitors but I was allowed to use it for my Art O Level work. Here I noticed the lovely stucco ceiling and remarkable relief works around the building: motifs and hidden designs almost everywhere, even in the Home Science room!
Years of paint and redecorating has covered the original ceiling and walls but the nature and spirit of the building still resounded in the empty spaces as I walked around for the last time before the building was closed and we RNDMs bade our fond farewell.
It was always a happy school and laughter and chatter filled the corridors and classrooms and there was never a day without some fun amidst the serious learning! Since 1966, when the secondary school closed, due mainly to the changes in educational policy for Secondary Education in Lancashire, many of the girls furthered their education in Preston and other areas in and around Lancashire; many becoming professional people. Despite being in contact with very few past pupils since those days, those I speak with still have fond memories of their early education in Moss Lane – Oaklands. During the liturgy in St Mary’s, I talked with a former primary school student who recalled watching the senior girls coming out of Oaklands with their lovely green felt hats and uniforms, looking forward to the day when she would join the senior girls in that wonderful “house-like school”! It was lovely to see St Catherine’s Primary school pupils who sang for the celebration Liturgy still wearing the same colour green uniform today!
On behalf of the former girls of St Catherine’s Secondary School, Oaklands, I wish to thank the sisters during those years for their dedication and formation. “Oaklands” was unique and will always be remembered for its motto – Virtue, Knowledge and Excellence.
Sr Rose Mary Harbinson, RNDM