A Peer-To-Peer Welcome

Coláiste Íosagáin, Portarlington Students Sharon O’Neill and Alison Bryan describe organising a welcome Mass for first years.

Pictured above are group of happy students new to the school. 

Sharon O’Neill and Alison Bryan

Secondary schools are certainly busy places and Coláiste Íosagáin in Portarlington, Co. Laois is no different. Since September, 210 first year students have been busy settling into new routines, finding their way around our school, discovering new subjects and joining up to different extra- curricular activities.

Teachers, tutors and year heads have been helping them to feel like they are valued members of our school community. We, as fifth year students, wanted to play our part too. While we had a Mass to mark the opening of the school year, we wanted to do something specifically for the first years.

We are participating in the Pope John Paul II Awards programme. This is a faith-based programme which encourages us to use our skills in school and in the parish to achieve a bronze, silver or gold award. There are currently six students in fifth year taking part.

Some of our challenges are parish-based and some of our jobs are done in school time. We have just started this programme, so when the chance came to help out at the Mass we were pleased to be involved.

The first year Mass of welcome was scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 15. Fr Pat Hughes is our local priest and he is always around to help us organise religious services that take place throughout the year. He was very happy to have our input.

We decided to take a leading role in organising the readings, communion reflection and choir.


Other students involved in Meitheal were organising the opening procession and a service of light. We wanted to help the first years to choose the readings rather than doing it for them so we met with a small group of students to chat with them about the theme of the Mass which was ‘new beginnings’.

We asked the advice of Sr Maureen who is the chaplain and coordinator for the Pope John Paul II Awards too. In the end the students chose a passage from Ephesians for the first reading. The psalm was sung and a reading from the Gospel of Mark was read by Fr Pat.

The artwork that decorated the walls was produced by all the first years during their religion classes. Each of the seven class groups designed a mural in the shape of seven jigsaw pieces using their hands. They are really lovely and the completed jigsaw is now hanging in our canteen for everyone to see.

We asked three students to read the reflection after Communion. This was a really lovely part of the Mass as all students were invited to close their eyes and reflect on their journey through life so far. Even though it was focused on the first years we found that we were able to think back to our time as new first years too. We realised we have come a long way since then!

The Communion reflection read at the first year Mass will be printed and placed on the religion noticeboard so that the first years can read back over it as often as they like.

The music department helped the choir to produce some lovely instrumental pieces and hymns which sent lovely music around the school building. The school choir has members from every year group in the school and we felt this was a nice way to show that the whole school supports the first years. After all, we all remember what it was like to be new in the school!

It can be easy for exams and timetables to take over our lives at certain times. Helping to organise this Mass was a very enjoyable way to help our new students. It served to remind us that making space for God in our lives is very rewarding.

We encouraged the first years to take time out and pray for themselves and each other. A simple service showed them how, even in the busiest of times, time for prayer in our community is so worthwhile.

All the students and teachers were very impressed with our actions. We are hoping to be students that the first years can look up to. If we show them that it is easy to find time for God then maybe they can become good examples for younger members of their families too.

What was nice was that the teachers, tutors and students were all there together. Unfortunately we didn’t have the space to invite parents to come.

It was a simple but lovely experience and it wasn’t difficult to organise. We were glad to help and it was nice that a lot of the first years came up to thank us when the Mass was over.

(Article courtesy of The Irish Catholic).