Sister Genevieve

Originally from Co Offaly, Sister Genevieve taught in Belfast schools for 32 years

Sister Genevieve was born Mary O’Farrell in March 1923,  in Tullamore, Co Offaly. She joined the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in 1941, and embarked on a teacher training course in Manchester, 1944. In 1950, having taken her vows and the religious name, Genevieve, she was sent to Lanark in Scotland, where she taught for six years.

In January 1956, Sister Genevieve was sent to teach at St Vincent’s Primary school on west Belfast’s Falls Road. Two years later, she was appointed vice-principal of the newly established, nearby St Louise’s Girls’ Secondary Intermediate School. After becoming head teacher in 1963, Sister Genevieve oversaw the school's transition to comprehensive status, with St Louise's evolving into the largest comprehensive school in western Europe.

The following decades saw her struggle to preserve the school as a haven away from the armed conflict, and social upheavals, of the Troubles. A combination of internment, the Hunger Strikes and military raids made West Belfast one of the epicentres of the conflict. There were also struggles with officialdom, and with church hierarchy.

Sister Genevieve retired as head teacher in 1988. Six years later she suffered a stroke which left her unable to read or write. She died in Belfast in 2001.

Further reading:
Celebrated Citizens of Belfast (2002), J Bradbury; Sister Genevieve (2001), J Rae.