On the 15th March President Mary McAleese visited St. Mary’s to officiate at the opening of the school’s newly refurbished Assembly Hall, named in honour of the President. The President was accompanied by her husband Martin, a past pupil of St. Mary’s, who represented the school at football and hurling in the 1970s. The President and her husband have maintained strong links with St Mary’s during her years in office. They were guests of honour at a gala dinner in the Europa hotel in 1997 to commemorate the closing of Barrack St., the original site of the Christian Brothers’ Secondary School in Belfast.

 The Assembly Hall, which also includes a school chapel, was burnt down last year in an act of wanton vandalism. It has since been completely refurbished and the President unveiled the new facility in front of a group of students, staff, governors, past pupils and distinguished guests. These included political representatives such as Belfast Lord Mayor Pat Convery, Pat Sheehan- MLA for West Belfast and Alex Atwood MLA along with influential members of the business community.

 The President’s reception committee included Gerry McHugh (Captain) and other representatives of the 1971 All Ireland winning Hogan and O’Keefe Cup teams. This year the school is marking the 40th anniversary of the Hogan victory at a gala dinner in the Ramada on the 15th April. The event will also honour the 25th anniversary of the MacRory Cup victory of 1986.

 The President also took time to meet staff and senior students who are taking part in the school’s award winning Project Zambia (winner of the Aisling Award for Education 2010). The Project has raised over £100,000 to date and supports schools, orphanages and irrigation schemes in the poverty stricken Misisi compound in Lusaka. Together with a group of 10 staff and pupils from St. Dominic’s Grammar school the St. Mary’s students have volunteered to help in the township over the Easter holidays when they will be striving to deliver a range of teaching, construction and medical services as well as improving the living conditions of a group of landless squatters.

 The event was a resounding success and was enhanced by an inspirational speech from President McAleese which emphasised the enormous contribution of the Christian Brothers to education in Ireland and beyond.
She spoke of her husband’s pride in being a past pupil of St. Mary’s. “It is such an honour for both Martin and I to have this official opening bestowed upon us. St. Mary’s gave Martin such an important education. This school leads to the formation of a human person and through the award winning Project Zambia we have a bunch of fellows bridging the gap between countries to show that we are all God’s people. There is a righteous pride that exists in this school and it is the platform to be the best that you possibly can be.”

 Thanking the President and her husband, Principal Jim Sheerin reiterated Mrs McAleese’s words stating, “Our students are a powerful tribute to Irish youth and education.”