Last week Fr. Raymond celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for all Dominican staff in his final Mass as Dominican Chaplain Star of the Sea Church. We were delighted to invite Sr. Lucina Montague O.P and Sr. Brighde O’Kane O.P from the Dominican order to attend the Mass and to invite members of the Board of Governors and Trustees of the school.
Fr. Raymond McCullagh joined us as our Dominican Chaplain in 1999 and has been a constant companion to all staff and pupils for the past 23 years. He has helped many of us celebrate the happy times such as weddings, baptisms, centenaries and has stood side by side with us at times of great grief and loss, in times of joy and pain and times of sunshine and rain. Fr. Raymond has been a constant presence in and support for the school in all the years from 1999 to 2022 and a friend to all staff and pupils.
Later this month, Fr. Raymond will set off to Boston for a summer retreat. On his return he will move to another part of the Down and Connor Diocese: this will sadly mean that he will not be able to serve as a chaplain to the school.
The theme of today’s Liturgy was giving thanks and the readings and prayers reflected this theme as we as a school family contemplated and celebrated both Fr. Raymond and Ms Ronan’s years of service to the school and also reflected on the loss earlier this year of Mr Richard Harte.
A Staff choir, led by Mr Cloughley, provided the music for the ceremony with beautiful renditions of “On Eagle’s Wings”, “Dominican Magnificat”, “ On That Holy Mountain” and a final moving “ You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
Fr. Raymond told staff at the Mass of Thanksgiving in his homily that he remembered the wise words of one of his mentors in Maynooth College of the need to be able to say goodbye to significant people and places and how, unless and until you say goodbye properly, you cannot really return as a visitor. Fr Raymond reflected on how difficult it was to say goodbye to a place as special as Dominican College and his first arrival at the school in 1999 when he met Barry Murphy our then principal and the Dominican Sisters Lambert and Sarah.
Reflecting on his very first Dominican school assembly in 1999 Fr Raymond described his great nerves as he thought about the prospect of the challenge of speaking to more than 400 children for five minutes about God. Fr Raymond explained how each year as Chaplain in Dominican College brought a new Year 8 Mass, Year group retreats, carol services, Ash Wednesday and Lenten preparations and a final end of Year leavers’ mass.
Recalling past staff, Raymond reflected on the recent loss of members of staff such as Richard Harte, Bryan Rooney, Patricia Stanley and Sr. Rosaire Boden O.P and also the loss of past pupils such as Liza Doherty.
He spoke of the depth of faith in the school and the commitment to social justice in Habitat for Humanity teams, John Paul II pupils and St Vincent De Paul students and how, under the leadership of Dr Bob Cummings and Ms Rosemary Ronan how the Dominican ethos deepened and how all we do as a school is based on God’s unchanging love. Fr. Raymond thanked in a particular way Ms Ronan for all she has done for the school within her almost forty years of service as a teacher, VP and Principal.
Concluding his homily Fr Raymond paid tribute to all the generations of Dominican sisters who dedicated their lives to education in Portstewart explaining how they are a continual inspiration with their belief in Catherine of Siena’s words that “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”.
Fr. Raymond spoke of the warmth of the Dominican family and how he has always treasured his time as school chaplain. Thanking all Dominican staff and blessing them in their ongoing work, Raymond concluded with some words of Oscar Romero from the Dominican Centenary Prayer Book:
“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view…we plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…we are workers not master builders. Ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own”.
Dominican Staff gathered after the mass to celebrate Fr Raymond’s unique and lasting contribution to our school community.
He will never walk alone!
As a Dominican community we sincerely wish Fr. Raymond every success and happiness in his future work and pay tribute to a long and proud legacy as Dominican Chaplain.