Belfast Telegraph

School's poignant ceremony for lost teacher to be held near spot where she went missing

By Claire McNeiily

Staff at Hazelwood Intergrated College will today hold a private ceremony of remembrance close to where a missing teacher from the Newtownabbey school was last seen.

East Belfast mother-of-one Catherine Johnston disappeared on December 15 and her white Seat Leon car was later found at Ballintoy Harbour on the Antrim coast.

The popular 39-year-old science teacher and head of Year 10 - from whom no one has heard in over seven weeks - was described by the principal as a "key leader of the future".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Kathleen O'Hare said that colleagues wished to pay a special tribute to Catherine, who was due to celebrate her 40th birthday this weekend.

"Staff need some kind of closure," said Mrs O'Hare.

"That's not to say that we are going to forget Catherine. Rather, this is a very poignant way for us all to remember her and keep her in our hearts and thoughts."

The service will be officiated at by school chaplain the Rev Trevor Kelly at noon in Ballintoy Church of Ireland, which overlooks the sea.

A crystal vase, which was recently awarded to Mrs O'Hare, will be filled with flowers for those attending the memorial to either take home or throw over the cliff in the coastal village afterwards.

Mrs O'Hare, who received the Leadership Award at the fifth Annual Blackboard Awards at Stormont last week, said that her co-worker's disappearance was taking its toll on those close to her.

"Catherine has a lovely family and it's extremely hard for her husband Tim, their three-year-old son James, and her mummy and daddy," she said.

"But it's also difficult for the science department and the school as a whole because she was one of those people that everyone knew.

"She would have stopped and talked to everybody.

"She was so well-liked and popular and she would have gone on all the school outings, or she would have been the one organising the outings.

"She was very involved in the school.

"She was delighted she was head of year for the best performing GCSE year group in our 30-year history in 2016."

Mrs O'Hare added: "School is made up of many different leaders and Catherine was one of my key leaders and a key leader for the future.

"She would have gone far."

The principal said that staff wanted to have their own special service to pay tribute to a friend and fellow worker they held in such high esteem.

"When someone belongs to a large organisation like ours it's as though they have another family, and this is just her Hazelwood family reaching out," said Mrs O'Hare.

"There will be staff, both past and present, there because Catherine has been with us for 12 years."

Referring to the prestigous personal award she received just days ago, Mrs O'Hare, a former UK Head Teacher of the Year, revealed: "It hasn't been out of the box yet."

She added: "It's a crystal vase and I'll be putting flowers in it so everyone can take one home, or throw one over the cliff."

Belfast Telegraph


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