IT is the end of an era for Sr. Margaret Daly, who has retired after more than three decades in the classroom.
She spent nearly 30 years teaching in Mayfield — 26 in Mhuire Banrion and the last four in the newly amalgamated Scoil Mhuire agus Eoin. But, as the next phase of her life beckons, the new dawn offers her endless opportunity exploring new horizons.
“Going forward, leaving the school, having plenty of energy and enthusiasm for something else, influenced my decision. I reflected on it a lot. Yes, it is an end of an era and it was very final walking away in my 30th year on December 22, 2020.
“I didn’t make the decision to retire lightly. I feel a mixture of excitement and uncertainty.
“I am leaving teaching still loving it. I have always felt blessed that I loved my job and I know how lucky I was in that.”
She realised her decision would have an impact on her fellow-teachers, her pupils and their parents.
“I know my terrific colleagues at school were shocked when I announced I was retiring.”
She had moments when she questioned what she would do once she left school.
“I think; OMG! What will I be doing?”
When Sr. Margaret started teaching, she did not plan on becoming a Mercy sister.
“Entering the convent was never part of the plan,” says Sr. Margaret, who joined the Sisters of Mercy Cork in 1984.
“My pupils will be doing the maths now,” she says, laughing.
“Now they can do their sums because I joined the order when I was 21!”
Children are naturally curious.
“They ask; ‘how old are you? Do you have children? Did you ever get married?’”
They ask their good-humoured teacher other things too.
“Give us tips on how to be giddy!” they say.
“I say ‘what do I know about that? They answer; you know a lot about that!’ The children have a great sense of humour and they’re funny about quirky things. We have a laugh together.”
Sr. Margaret has enjoyed a long, rewarding relationship with her pupils.
“I have learned a lot from them. I taught some of their parents!”
Sr. Margaret, the last Mercy sister teaching in a Munster Primary school, has seen a lot of changes in three decades.
“The interaction with pupil and teacher has changed,” says Sr. Margaret.
“We interact with each other more. The classroom is more informal and more personal, which is good. Trust is built-up and we talk together more.
“It’s all about the child and meeting the educational needs of the whole person and giving them opportunities to grow and learn.”
Scoil Mhuire Banrion GNS agus Eoin amalgamated in 2017, becoming Scoil Mhuire agus Eoin.
“One of the projects in which Scoil Banrion was involved found great favour with the boys when the two schools joined together,” says Sr. Margaret.
“This was the VEX Robotics competition. They built a robot, coded it and competed against other primary schools in CIT. The Digital Excellence initiative also offers them great opportunities in developing IT skills while having fun.
“I hope that I have passed on my love of maths to the children as well as my belief in the importance of trying new things.”
They were all in it together.
“The boys and girls showed great enthusiasm, building a robot to compete in the Vex Robotics competition in CIT. They had great fun with engineering projects as well,” says Sr. Margaret.
“The Digital Excellence initiative offered then great opportunities in learning about the elements of IT including Coding.”
Sr. Margaret has a love of something else that is logical too.
“I’m a great believer in making lists!”
Sr. Margaret, who has one brother and one sister, grew up in Cork city near the Lough. “I was the middle child,” she says.
She qualified as a teacher.
“I was newly qualified and I was teaching at St. Marie’s of the Isle Convent of Mercy.”
She instantly felt at home there.
“I was very impressed by the Sisters of Mercy, by their kindness and by their sense of humour.”
Sr. Margaret has happy memories of her first impressions of the religious community.
“I have good memories of the group, of their kindness and of their fairness.”
The lovely human traits of the sisters and the sense of inclusion encouraged Sr. Margaret to seek advice and counsel from Sr. De Chantal.
“One day I asked her, ‘what’s it like?’” says Sr. Margaret.
“She advised me to talk to someone about entering religious life. I thought perhaps they might say I wasn’t suitable, but they didn’t.”
In her heart, Sr. Margaret knew she was making the right choice, but she doesn’t always let her heart rule her head.
“Just like making the choice about retiring, I reflected on, and prayed about my choice to enter the convent.”
Did the lack of lifestyle choices becoming a nun concern her?
“You know, every choice you make has an impact on your life,” says Sr. Margaret. “I made the choice to say goodbye to one part of my life by entering another life.”
Going through life, we often have to consult others.
“If you need to make decisions in life, often you consult your partner or your spouse for advice or for direction.”
What about her hard-earned money that is contributed into the community of nuns that Sr. Margaret belongs to?
“Well, again, many people have to contribute to mortgages or pay their loans; I contribute to my order.”
Being a people-person and enjoying the company of young people and her young students; was her social life impacted?
“Entering the nuns offered me a positive social life, mixing with new people,” says Sr. Margaret.
“Meeting a lot more people from all walks of life opened up my life, and broadened my life.
"I am fortunate to have lots of friends and am involved with family and inter-connected with the community. The notion of being locked away in a convent is long gone.”
How did her parents feel about her choice to become a nun?
“They were bemused more than anything,” says Sr. Margaret.
Did she miss her parents at first?
“Leaving your immediate family is always a wrench,” acknowledges Sr. Margaret.
“But you make that decision with your whole heart. Every role has its positives and negatives. When you make a choice, you take on the positives.
“Not being Polly-annish about it; it is your attitude that matters; an attitude of gratitude.”
Sr. Margaret has led a very rich and fulfilled life.
Can I ask a question her pupils might have asked her?
Did she ever fall in love before she took her vows?
“I had a feeling you were going to ask me that!” says Sr. Margaret, laughing.
“Yes I did have a boyfriend or two, but there was always something holding me back that I never knew. This other idea was brewing in the background.”
If she wanted to go on a cruise now she’s retired, would she have to seek permission from ‘the boss’?
“I wouldn’t be going on a cruise, I’d be sea-sick,” she says, displaying her upbeat sense of humour.
“But I’d like to do the Camino.”
And she’s good to go too.
“I’ve had two knee replacements and if I expressed an interest in doing the pilgrimage walk, it would be possible for me to go ahead.”
Any more plans in the offing?
“The Sisters and I grew quite a lot of vegetables, so more gardening is on the cards. I’d also like to work with different social justice groups.”
Is she looking forward to relaxing a bit more?
“I’d like to catch up with loads of friends when that is possible again.”
One more question. Any regrets?
“I suppose one might regret not having a family of one’s own. But again, that is a personal choice that is made.”
But she had the love and respect of hundreds of children that she taught and that she cherished, taking them under her wing.
“Yes, I was very fortunate,” she agrees.
“I will always cherish my school book of memories.”
Sister Margaret will never be redundant.
“In the Mercy Congregation we have a phrase. We don’t retire, we are re-hired!