On Friday 22 June, the community of St Thomas More, Ruse gathered at their parish church for a Mass to honour the feast day of their patron saint and to celebrate the school’s significant 40th anniversary. A much anticipated event, shared with students, staff, families (past and present) and parishioners, giving thanks for the last 40 years.
Many people still remember the motto of the school they attended. They are designed into uniforms, displayed on school buildings and their meaning emphasised on special occasions. School mottos are features of our culture, messages that remind us what schools are about.
The motto of my primary school, in fact St Thomas More Ruse, 'Live in Truth and Love' has been firmly ingrained in me since kindergarten, shaping my Catholic identity. It was poignant to then return, 23 years later, to witness the familiar motto enduring today, evidenced by the values and character of the Ruse community.
To honour their patron saint and mark such an important milestone, a whole school Mass was arranged, the first of the year in the Church, led by their parish priest, Reverend Michael Healy, to reflect on the life and influence of St Thomas More.
School Captains, Emelia Barry and Matias Rennert, talk about their celebrations:
Mass commenced with an Acknowledgement of Country by teacher, Danielle Grados. The congregation were then warmly welcomed by the School Captains, Emelia Barry and Matias Rennert, particularly extending welcome to invited guests: Director of Schools, Peter Turner, Mary Ellen Bland from the Campbelltown Catholic Club, Karen Wright and student leaders from St Patrick's College, Campbelltown, Good Samaritan Sisters, Sr Geraldine Kearney, Sr Meg Kahler and Sr Janet Calbourne (celebrating her own significant birthday), and foundation families, remarkably some part of the Ruse community 40 years ago!
The joyful voices of students filled the church during the opening hymn Let Us Come and then later, ahead of the Gospel procession, beautiful liturgical movement with the student's hair decorated with ribbons in their school colours. Principal, Philip Barrington, spoke after the Gospel reading, further offering welcome and relaying how proud his is to lead a school, “truly great in name and action”.
Mr Barrington then took the congregation on a journey back in time, to the year 1532, welcoming a surprise visitor - St Thomas More - fittingly acted by school support officer, Suzanne Santa Maria, who was welcomed by students with coy smiles. In a Q&A format, Mr Barrington interviewed St Thomas More, asking two key questions: "Who was St Thomas More?" and "How can we be more like St Thomas More"? The students attentively listened to the wise advice offered, and provided loud applause when St Thomas More finished 'his' interview.
The Mass proceedings were noticeably filled with the inclusive involvement of students, staff and parishioners, including the offertory by Mary and Allan Parsons (a founding family), reinforcing the close relationship the school shares with their parish and community.
In a moving tribute, the Good Samaritan Sisters in attendance were bestowed a special blessing, sung to them by the entire congregation in gratitude for their assistance in establishing the school. As a result of the powerful lobbying from parents seeking opportunity for Catholic education for their children, a parcel of land owned by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan was made available in 1978. The Sisters extended their hospitality for many months while the school was establishing, with many friendships formed.
Another highlight was the unveiling by Assistant Principal, Joanne MacFetters, of a striking anniversary quilt. Both past and present community members contributing to the creation, each designing individual squares representing their connection with the school. Upon reveal, a loud reaction from one student “wow”, candidly reflected the brilliant impression it made on all. The quilt was generously assembled by parent, Lisa Leishman, who commented how proud she was of the finished piece. The quilt will be hung in the school as a 40 year anniversary legacy.
Anniversary candles were then presented to invited guests, followed by the presentation of an anniversary cake cut by dignitaries and two excited students, one the youngest of the school and the other, the eldest! This was followed by the collective singing of the St Thomas More school song. Upon their return to school, the students were told that they would each receive an anniversary bookmark and also an anniversary candle for their classrooms. The students were commended by Reverend Michael Healy for their respect shown during Mass.
The occasion wouldn’t have come together so successfully without the thoughtful organisation by Religious Education Coordinator, Jean-Marie Morris, who was amply helped by the wonderful staff of St Thomas More. In a gesture of thanks, each staff member was presented with a handmade flower by students, in appreciation of what a “fine example of community”, they are. Reverend Michael Healy was also sincerely thanked. The end of the celebrations culminated with students returning to school for a donut each provided by their school P&F, while the rest of the community enjoyed morning tea - and some reminiscing - in the parish hall.
Long term staff member, Christine O’Brien, shares a personal reflection -
“My husband and I have been associated with the school for 36 years, first as parents and later as staff. It is difficult to choose one or two memories, what comes to mind first is the many good people we have been fortunate to meet through the school, some of whom have become lifelong friends. St Thomas More has always attracted generous, caring and faith-filled people, who have managed to build a strong sense of community that is still present within the school today.
Education and buildings may change, but the people who are willing to sacrifice and band together for the good of our children have always been there. There is a spirit present in this school, you feel it particularly at fete time when everyone pulls together. You can see it when a family experiences sadness and everyone rallies around, working to help make their load lighter. You could feel it in the days of St Thomas More football and netball clubs when half the school would be at the grand finals to cheer teams on. You can feel it at working bees when parents willingly put their time and sweat into the school. All the unsung heroes who organised fashion parades, Easter raffles, sports carnivals, concerts, book parades, liturgies, sacraments, excursions, charity drives, sewing bees, reading groups, parent meetings, they have all helped to fill this school with a special spirit”.
St Thomas More has a further schedule of activities planned for continued 40th anniversary celebrations:
- Monday 25 June - the fantastic Youth Music Ministry Truck ensemble entertained current students (and staff) on the school oval, culminating in a great event for all (see photos in the gallery below);
- Whole school photo in the shape of a '40';
- 40th anniversary pavers - available for the community to purchase, to be used around a garden in the school;
- Sunday 5 August - 40th anniversary fete, a well-known annual event; and
- Sunday 25 November - 40th anniversary picnic held in the school grounds for anyone associated with the school.