By Ann Schulte, SHCJ
17th October, 2019 – “Back to School” and Greetings – Holy Child Secondary School, Calabar, Nigeria
“My goodness I did not realize the school was so big!” someone exclaimed as we made our way to the school Assembly ground on 17th October, 2019. We then realized this was the “Back to School” with the Old Girls in their various uniforms according to the years they were in the school, and their school berets. Hence they were at the Assembly together with the present students, who were looking somewhat amazed as the Old Girls were so excited to see each other again, as they met in their different year groups.
“We” were the four SHCJ sisters who had arrived from Lagos. Two were Old Girls, Sr. Irene Ekeng of the 1974 set and Sr. Genevieve Ibedu of the 1999 set. While St. Terry Umana was a former Principal, and Sr. Ann Schulte, represented the two first SHCJ Principals, Mother St. Henry Parker, and Mother Mary Kenneth, as all past Principals were going to be given an award on 19th October. The two SHCJ Old Girls quickly joined their respective sets to the great joy of the other members of the set. Gradually some order was restored, Sr Mary Akinwale, the present Principal, welcomed all present, and the March Past of past and present students began to the accompaniment of a very good school band.
18th October, 2019 – Road Walk
The next day found Old Girls arriving at the school in their sports uniforms and the two Sisters also wore theirs for the Walk and carnival float. The group moved into the road with the present students and band, and visited the Good Samaritan Home giving some gift items to the inmates, who were very grateful and one gave the vote of thanks. Srs. Ann, Terry and Agnes went to greet them on their return through the school gates, and Sr Ann joined the carnival group for a little dance. The smart phones were clicking everywhere! Later all sat down in their groups for some much deserved rest and picnic together.
On this day too, Sr Mary Akinwale took a group of students to the Cathedral for their ”Day with the Archbishop”. After the Mass in the Cathedral, there was a competitive March Past which was won by Holy Child Secondary School to the great joy of all, and in the cultural dancing Holy Child came third, so tired but happy they returned in the evening with the two cups, amidst great rejoicing in the school!
19th October, 2019 – Novelty Football Match
A friendly football match took place between the Old Girls of Marian Hill, and the Old Boys of St. Patrick’s. It ended up 3-3! Though it would seem the umpire missed a few irregularities during the game. However all were happy and enjoyed some refreshments and drinks which they had bought along for the occasion. This was followed by a football match between Holy Child and Sacred Heart school with the “kick off” done by Sr. Ann. Happily for Holy Child, they won 3-2!
The Old Girls then left to get ready for the special Gala Night and giving of awards to all the past Principals which was to take place that evening in The Dome.
Meanwhile some of the Sisters – Srs. Agnes Solomon, Mary Akinwale, Ann Schulte, Elizabeth Okwori and Caroline Mberekpe – went to the Convent of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, who were having the opening Mass for the 7th Chapter of the South Eastern Province, in the original SHCJ chapel. The Bishop con-celebrated with some other priests. The Chapel was full, with the Novices remaining outside, until they brought in their Offertory gifts after the professed had brought their own. We were invited to a meal, passing the beautiful fairly new Provincial House on the way. It was time on our return to take a little rest before the evening Grand Reunion Gala Night.
Meanwhile, the students had not been left out, as Sr Genevieve had taken the opportunity to organize a Seminar for them on “Cornelia Connelly’s Philosophy of Education.” At the end of the Seminar “The Young Cornelians” group was formed, comprising about 66 students.
19th October, 2019 – Part 2: The Gala Night Dinner
Bright lights, a large area filled with people of different ages dressed for the eventful evening, and talking animatedly to their neighbours, greeted Srs. Agnes Solomon, Terry Umana, Genevieve Ibedu and Ann Schulte on their arrival at the Dome Gala Night Dinner. Sr. Irene Ekeng had already been attending some earlier events with the old girls in The Dome. Excited different year groups of Old Girls made their way to the stage for a year group photo, which would be a happy memory of this eventful weekend. Finally all was ready for the first part of the Gala Night.
Special Guests were invited to the “High Table” which was a table at the front of The Dome, some of these included the Wife of the Governor of Cross River State, Hon. Dr. Alex Egbona, Chairman of the occasion, and Chief Engineer Eyo Ita They, or the person representing them, seemed to sit on the left side and the past principals being honoured sat on the right side of the centre aisle. Srs Agnes, Ann and Terry were brought to the front. After the Opening Prayer said by Sr Agnes Solomon, and some opening remarks by the Chairman, a Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof Anthonia Umoren on “The Girl Child Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” She noted the deplorable situation for many girls in Nigeria today, and said that “The family as the primary unit of socialization must braze up to its responsibility. The school, the government, the church, indeed all hands must be on deck to redeem our girls in particular and the nation at large.”
The Alumni Choir then presented us with some songs, some of which were well known by generations of Old Girls, who joined in. An amazing cultural band of small children then entertained the gathering with great energy and enthusiasm. Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, led in the unveiling of a book, “Marian Hill Legacies” on the Legacies of many past Old Girls, auctioning them for funds for the Alumni Project of the School Infirmary. We were kindly given 3 copies for the Provinces. All this while people were enjoying their Gala Night Dinner as the events were taking place. There was great interest in a playlet, “The Life and Times of Late Mary Arit Effiom,” the first indigenous Principal who took over from Mother Mary Kenneth. Mother St.Henry returned and worked under her and some other Principals, who were all former students at Marian Hill, for some years until she left in 1973. Lady Mary Effiom was known as a strict disciplinarian yet very kind and generous, and many Old Girls present had benefited from her time as Principal.
As the evening wore on it came to the time for the Awarding of the Past Principals. Sr. Ann was the first to be called to be presented with the Award for the Founding Principal, Mother Mary St. Henry Parker and then another Award for Mother Mary Kenneth. In all there were 10 former Principals who were given awards, most of whom were present except for the 3 who had died, apart from the two founding ones, and a family member came up to accept the award on their behalf. This was accompanied by much flashing of cameras by the photographers and of course scores of smart phones recording the event. Sr. Terry Umana was presented with her award, then she collected the one for Sr. Amarachi Nduh, who was unable to be present, and another SHCJ collected the award for Sr. Susan Igele. At the end all the former Principals present were called up to cut the Gala Night cake!
“Thou Art the Light” was sung with great enthusiasm by all present, followed by a closing prayer, which brought to an end a rich and memorable evening.
20thOctober, 2019 – Old Girls Thanksgiving Mass at Calabar Cathedral and Farewell
Sunday 20th October, found us all back again in the Sacred Heart Cathedral for the Thanksgiving Mass at 10. am. This time the Old Girls were wearing a special cloth printed for the occasion, mostly made into elegant long flowing dresses. Sr. Mary Akinwale had been asked to also bring a group of the students from the school for the occasion. As we, Srs Agnes, Ann, Terry, Genevieve and Irene, walked into the Cathedral we saw a sea of blue headdresses of the many Old Girls already seated in the Cathedral!
The Mass was said by Fr. Emmanuel Offiong, who noted that his mother was sitting there among the Old Girls, and that he himself was an Old Boy from St. Patrick’s school. Many Memorial gifts were brought up at the appropriate time, as Thanksgiving for the past and for the present days of celebration. Sr. Genevieve, with the help of the newly inducted “Young Cornelians”, distributed prayer cards with the Prayer for the Beatification of Cornelia Connelly and encouraged the Old Girls to pray through her and for her beatification. Good byes were said, probably with many promises to “keep in touch” with shared emails and phone numbers. This brought to an end a very successful “Grand Reunion of Holy Child Old Girls , Marian Hill, Calabar 17th – 20th October, 2019,” Those who had worked so hard in the different committees must have been relieved that everything seemed to go so well, and that such a number of Old Girls turned up to make it truly a “GRAND REUNION.”
Those of us who boarded the Air Peace plane for Lagos the following day met one or two Old Girls who were very full of the weekend they had just celebrated. One said that it was 40 years since she had last seen some of her classmates. Our two SHCJ Old Girls were also so happy to have been there and met so many of their year group and others they knew.
We pray that the Holy Child will give His blessing to all the past and present students, and those to come in the future, as well as on the school and Administration that was founded in 1953 and has seen so many changes in the Nation and State over the years, as it has worked throughout, to give the Girl Child a good, holistic education for her to play her part in society the church and the family, in her adult life.