Celebrations at St Raphael’s Primary for special birthday

ST Raphael’s Catholic Primary School, Millbrook, has already celebrated its 50th anniversary, even though the landmark isn’t reached until January 2019.

“This is our 50th academic year which is why we have already begun our celebrations,” explained executive headteacher Peter Johnson.

The school planned St Raphael’s Day on September 29 as the focal point as they hold a special mass each year on that date.

But as the Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, was otherwise engaged the mass had to be put back one week. And it was held alongside a Macmillan Cancer coffee morning.

The event was attended by a number of former priests and staff and ex-pupils, some of whose own children now attend St Raphael’s. Eileen DeMidh, a teaching assistant from the opening in 1969 to 2000, was among those present.

Gary Page, school caretaker for the last 30 years, was one of the first intake of pupils after transferring from St Peter’s RC Primary.

Former headteachers Andrew O’Neill and Maurice Keenan attended the celebratory mass while Sister Dominica, the first head in 1969, telephoned from Ireland. Now in her nineties, she was unable to travel.

“A beautiful, joyful and emotional celebration,” wrote Mr Keenan after attending the celebratory mass.

Special plaques were presented to former teachers along with current head of school Lynn Lakner who has been at St Raphael’s for 33 years.

She arrived as a newly-qualified teacher and has been co-ordinator, assistant head, deputy head and head of school.

In January she will become acting headteacher when Mr Johnson leaves to take up a new post in Wythenshawe.

And the day before the Bishop’s arrival was a visit from Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, who assisted pupils with their democracy project.

Pupils also created a display in the school hall featuring events from the last 50 years as well as having a themed day encapsulating the same period – many children turning up dressed as Spice Girls.

And similarly there was a reprise of events at St Raphael’s decade by decade so pupils could see how it has evolved over the past half century.

The school was built at a cost of £58,000 as an “overspill” for St Peter’s, Stalybridge.

St Raphael’s RC Church had opened in 1963 and closed in 2011, after which a special chapel was built at school where each Thursday children celebrate mass alongside parishioners.

Mrs Lakner recalled mixed-aged classes when she began teaching at the school. In her time numbers have risen from approximately 150 to 220.

There has been a nursery extension – it is all-day as opposed to being only mornings in 1969 – as well as the addition of a chapel in the grounds.

Mr Johnson described it as a “high-performing school” and regularly in the top 20 per-cent in the UK for progress in reading, writing and maths.

“Last year we had 96 per-cent of children leaving school with age-related expectations for reading, writing and maths combined,” he explained.

The school’s most famous former pupil is Premier League footballer Rob Holding, an FA Cup winner in his first season with Arsenal who beat Chelsea in the 2017 final.

Pupils sent the 23-year-old good luck messages and Holding phoned the school the day before the final to personally thank them.

And another well-wisher wrote in the visitors’ book “you can tell it is a happy and caring school”.

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