Historic day as Belfast's St Louise's opens doors to boys
A west Belfast secondary school made history this week by opening its doors to its first ever group of boys.
St Louise's Comprehensive College on the Falls Road is now a co-educational school for the first time in its 61-year existence.
The proposal was approved in 2017 and is now being implemented for the new school term as 240 first year pupils begin their secondary education this week.
As well as welcoming boys into Year 8, the school is reducing its capacity from 2,280 to 1,500.
The integration is being implemented on a phased basis with boys only being admitted in Year 8 and at post-16.
Principal Mary McHenry said it is a very special moment in the school's history.
"This marks the beginning of an exciting journey for our whole school community," she said. "St Louise's will continue to be the centre of excellence it has been for thousands of students for the past 60 years."
St Louise's will be hosting an event on September 18 to mark its opening as a co-educational college.
In a separate move as part of a shake-up of Catholic secondary schools in west Belfast, three single-sex, post-primaries are also merging into one new 1,000-pupil school.
In June 2017 the Department of Education's permanent secretary Derek Baker approved the two interconnected development proposals to commence this year.
It was hoped that the arrangements would be in place by 2018, but they were pushed back until next month.
The new school - All Saints College - brings together St Rose's Dominican College, Corpus Christi College and Christian Brothers' School (CBS).
It will initially operate on a split site with Years 8 to 12 at the current CBS Glen Road site and post-16 at St Rose's on Beechmount Avenue, and "provide excellence in educational provision and outcomes for young people in the area".
These changes are the product of discussions with trustees and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), as well as in-depth consultation and planning with principals and chairs of schools' boards of governors.
A spokesperson for CCMS said yesterday: "The changes will ensure that west Belfast has a network of co-educational schools ideally placed to provide the best educational standards as well as the range of subjects pupils require."
Long-serving head was a Falls heroine
St Louise's Comprehensive College opened in 1958 with 800 girls on the roll.
Sister Genevieve (Mary) O'Farrell was appointed the principal in 1963, a position she held for 25 years.
Under her tenure St Louise's grew in size from 1,000 to 2,400 students, becoming the largest single-sex school in western Europe.
She did this during the worst years of the Troubles in one of the areas most affected by the conflict.
Originally from Co Offaly, O'Farrell was referred to by local people as "the only man on the Falls", because of the forceful passion with which she defended her students' interests.