Holy Family Secondary School

The early days of the development of the Holy Family School.......




As there was no secondary school for girls in Newbridge, only a technical education was available at the local Vocational School. Those wishing to continue an academic education after primary school had to travel to Kildare or Naas to complete their studies.

To address this problem in Newbridge, in 1948, Rt. Rev. Msgr Miller, Parish Priest and school manager, set up a ‘secondary top’ in the Holy Family convent. A ‘Secondary Top’ was a secondary school programme set up for pupils of 14-16 years who remained on in primary school after school-leaving age. Sr Gertrude was the principal, and Sr Benedict (Sr Brid) assisted her. Based in the Convent, they shared classrooms with the primary school that was also based there. Many of their classes were held in wooden building known as ‘St Margaret’s’. This building was freezing cold in winter, and hot and stifling during the summer months. The Principal’s first task each winter month was to light a fire around 6am, and even then the ink froze in the ink-wells.

The ‘secondary top’ uniform was dark brown gymslip and tie, with a yellow blouse for summer; alternative summer wear was short-sleeved beige dress with brown trimmings. The winter outfit was a yellow jumper with brown stripes on neck and cuffs, and a gymslip.

Six pupils enrolled in 1948, and sat the Intermediate Certificate in 1950. Leaving Cert was not offered at that stage, so a secretarial/commercial course was organised under the guidance of Sr Berchmans (later St Teresa) and Sr Rosalie. Those who wanted to complete their Leaving Cert did so in the Mercy Convent, Naas. But from 1949 onwards a basic Leaving Cert programme of six subjects was offered to students.

In 1955 Sr Fatima (Sr Catherine Moran) joined the staff. She taught in both primary and secondary schools, as did Sr Gertrude. In 1958 Sr Gertrude moved to a Holy Family School in Paris, and Sr Berchmans became Principal. This was the last year of the ‘secondary top’. It was proving very difficult to get staff for the ‘secondary top’: only those with a national teacher’s diploma were paid by the Department of Education, while teachers with a university degree were not eligible for an incremental salary. If employed, they had to be paid out of private convent funds. As the salary was not incremental, working in a ‘secondary top’ was not an attractive proposition.

The pupil-teacher ratio was also a problem with a ‘secondary top’ school, as the ratio was based on the combined total of pupils in both primary and ‘secondary top’. With very small classes in the latter, some primary classes often had fifty pupils or more to deal with.


Monday 7 September, 1959, secondary school for girls opened. Based in the east wing of the convent and in ‘St Margaret’s’, it began with an enrolment of seventy-five pupils and a staff of five. The Principal was Sr Fatima (Sr Catherine), and she was ably helped by Sr Rosalie Ryan, Sr Elizabeth Molloy (from Leeds), Mrs Margaret O’Donoghue and Mrs Maire Ryan.

Pupils paid a fee of 4 guineas per term, with concessions for sisters. Uniform remained similar to the primary school to minimise expense, with the only addition a cerise sash and beret, and the Holy Family crest on the gym-slip and beret. Pupils brought a separate pair of indoor shoes as they shared the building with the nuns.

Irish, English and Maths were the core subjects, and languages, science and commerce made up the other options. Science had to be taught by someone with a University science degree, while all other subjects could be taught by university graduates. In the first year, there were seven pupils in Sixth Year, and fifteen in First Year. Overall there were fifteen pupils per class.

The school was given provisional recognition by the department of Education on 19 January 1960, and this was renewed on 14 June 1961.


Source: Maire Ryan, The Holy Family Sisters in Newbridge, 1875-2000. A publication to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Holy Family Sisters in Newbridge. (2000)