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50th Anniversary Commemorative Sculpture - Sacred Heart College

Dedication Speech

Dedication Speech: Joan Walsh-Smith                       

“Always striving upwards”

It is wonderful to be here today, to take part in such a special occasion as the 50th Anniversary celebration of the founding of this magnificent school.

It has been a great privilege for my husband Charlie and I to have been commissioned to produce this commemorative sculpture- but for me it is a particular honour that has a special meaning as I was certainly brought up on the concept of “Always striving upwards”!- having spent most of my formative years with the nuns in Ireland- the Ursuline Sisters, firstly in primary school and later as a boarder for six years- all around the time of the founding of this school. So this is a very special link for me with the past and brought much to mind during the process of producing the sculpture.

I would like to take the opportunity therefore, to explain our concept. On a practical level, she is a seated figure, with the intention of becoming an interactive artwork- historically linked to the past in her traditional Habit- yet contemporary in her approach, inviting everyone to sit with her and share in her inspiration as she looks up at the Heavens, in a special moment of inspiration. She thus embodies the principle of “Always striving upwards”

Even though the nuns who founded the school came from their time and context of the middle Sixties, and their Habit was different- I have depicted the sculpture as a nun of the 19th Century and although not specifically Adele Eugenie Barbier- “Sr. Marie”- “Mother Mary of the Heart of Jesus”, I felt it was appropriate from a symbolic point of view, to return to the image of the original founding Sisters of the Order itself.

I have also incorporated the idea of the “windswept veil” as suggested by the past pupil Boarders, as symbolic of the environment in which the school began- wild and remote, governed by this ‘wilderness’ of sea and sand.

It may in fact seem strange, however, in this day and age, to think of these nuns as real people. Encased in their medieval and almost mythical looking apparel, they seem somehow unreal- but actually when I was in school, the nuns still wore these habits. And this is what I want to bring across to you today, that they were indeed very real and this image that may seem dreamlike, is in fact, that of women who were highly practical and extraordinary human beings, who voyaged over the high seas of this planet, travelled into places like the outback of Australia- at a time when even for tough men, it was astoundingly difficult by today’s standards. They moved mountains, were undaunted in their mission, but this strength came from their belief and inner determination to succeed in their chosen work.

So, although they may seem like ghosts from the past-  they are very real for me. Indeed-this is why, I personally am so happy to help promote the strong link between the Sacred Heart College and the foundation of the RMDM Order as I feel that I have an intrinsic understanding of what it’s all about. I can look back now at this stage of my life and appreciate what the nuns from my school did for me. They were very rigid and most austere, and we certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, but this discipline and sense of order stood to us as life went on and although I didn’t know it then - it sank into my soul- that desire to be always striving upwards!
One thing in fact that really strikes me- only lately thinking about it, is that although this was the era of ‘women’s lib’- I never remember getting caught up in it and - I believe it was because there was never any sense that I was being brought up as a ‘convent girl’, but as a real person, the same as a boy might be: just ‘anyone’- it didn’t matter. All young people had a right to be educated and go on to their chosen profession and find their place in the world. In fact, every member of my class went on to achieve the highest personal level possible in their chosen profession. (One joined the order and not only became head mistress of the school but went on to sit in the highest levels of educational policy at a National level first, then in the EU and on to the UN!).

Women like Sr. Mary-( Eugenie Barbier) are therefore a very real example of what can be achieved through hard work, organisation and determination. They should never be forgotten!
As artists, we would like to believe that we have captured something of the unique quality that these very special women possessed. We hope that our sculpture of “Sr. Mary” will reside here for many eons to come and carry forward the ideals of the Sacred Heart College in Sorrento and all who sail in her!

Thank you again for this privilege!

Joan Walsh-Smith
& Charles Smith
















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