History of the St Louis Convent, Ballymena

It was on 8th January, 1924 ‑ a cold snowy day, according to one of the "Founding" Sisters ‑ that the first four Sisters of St Louis, accompanied by the Mother General and Canon McNamee, from Monaghan, arrived in Ballymena, to be warmly welcomed by the Parish Priest, Very Reverend Thomas Canon O'Donnell, who was mainly instrumental in bringing the Sisters. Canon O'Donnell had long been anxious to establish a Convent for the education of the Catholic girls of Ballymena so in September 1924, St Louis High School was started with an enrolment of 35 pupils, the large rooms in the Convent being used for classrooms, and some of the trees and shrubberies being cleared away to make room for playing fields and tennis courts. One of the attractions at that time was the walled garden presided over by George who was famous for his prize winning blooms at the Ballymena and other shows in the district. A special treat in the early days of the school was a visit to the garden, especially at the end of the summer term.

About 1926 a gymnasium was erected for games, "drill" and dancing, but with the increasing numbers it was soon subdivided by folding doors and used for additional classrooms.

As the numbers continued to rise, a completely new grammar school was built and opened in September, 1954, and the pupils flitted out of the Convent to occupy the beautiful new building which must have seemed marvellously spacious after the cramped conditions they had previously experienced.

However, the numbers increased rapidly and soon the 'new' school proved to be too small so an extension was added in 1969, providing more classrooms and library.

Early in 1970 at a meeting between Archdeacon McGrattan, accompanied by other clergy and representatives of the Ministry of Education, the question of changing the status of the school was discussed. To respond to the needs of the area i.e. grammar school education for boys, the Congregational Authorities agreed to making the school co‑educational. Boys were admitted for the first time in Sept­ember 1970.

The decision to go co-educational is the biggest single change to come to the school. From 1970 onwards the school has been in a phase of transition and rapid expansion. This has meant constant alterations in our way of life. Each year additional temporary accommodation has been necessary while the new wing proposed to replace the innumerable mobile temporary classrooms which are in use at present is awaited. Deo Gratias the dawn of this longed‑for new era broke on 4 January 1982 with the completion of the new building on the site of the all weather pitch. Sister Sheila Canty remained Principal of the school until 1987 when the first lay Principal, Mr. John Stuart, was appointed. He was succeeded by Mr. Frank Cassidy in 2002. Mr Cassidy was succeeded by Mr Sean Rafferty in September 2011. Our current principal, Mrs J O'Neill, took over in September 2022. Sadly, with the decline in vocations to the St Louis Order, it was no longer feasible to retain a Convent on the site. The difficult decision to close the Convent was taken in October 2004. The building was vacated in September 2005. On the positive side, one sister (Sr. Luana Walsh) has remained in Ballymena and does still contribute in a very positive way to the School

The history of the St. Louis Congregation, from its first beginnings, has been marked by striking sequences of death and regrowth. Whenever the plant dwindles a transplant flourishes elsewhere and makes its own particular contribution in the vineyard of the Lord.

Explanation and Symbolism of St Louis Crest

A glance at the St Louis Crest, the Congregation's coat of arms, is the surest way of making contact with the distinctive spirit of the Congregation of St Louis.

The central device, a sword encircled by a crown of thorns, recalls at once the Congregation's Chief Patron Saint, King Louis IX of France and his part in the Crusades; it was he who recovered the Crown of Thorns from the Saracens and housed it in the Sainte‑Chapelle, Paris. This crown also symbolises the king­ship of St. Louis.

Opposite the tower is a fleur‑de‑lis, emblem of the Kings of France, recalling the Congregation's French origin. According to an old tradition, the use of this heraldic device began in the reign of France's first Christian King, Clovis I, for whom it represented the lily given him by an angel at his baptism.

In the lower left‑hand portion of the shield appears a simplified version of the coat of arms of Monaghan town ‑ a tower in which is a shield bearing the Red Hand of Ulster. Monaghan where the Motherhouse is situated is the second cradle of the Congregation.

The inverted chevron of gold chain symbolises the "strong bond of the true Christian union" which welds the members of the Congregation into the unity of a religious family. Union in charity is again emphasized by the text "ut sint unum", "that they may be one", a prayer which was especially dear to their founder, Abbe Bautain.

The golden chain and the sword are in conjunction cruciform. This fundamental symbol of Christianity recalls God's love for man.
The motto of the Congregation "Dieu le veult", "God will it", was the rallying cry of the Crusaders. It bespeaks chivalry, courage, courtesy, enthusiasm ‑ all the virtues required by the ideal of Christian knighthood.