(Vatican Radio) The Marymount International School of Rome has been celebrating its 70th anniversary recalling the founding of the institute in 1946.
The first Marymount School was founded in 1926 in New York by Mother Marie Joseph Butler, and was part of a network of schools directed by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM). Mother Butler envisioned an independent educational opportunity for the daughters of the Irish and Italian emerging middle classes, to ensure they would continue their education as Catholics. With this in mind, she founded the Marymount School and soon after opened Marymount colleges to educate the teachers who worked in the schools. Mother Butler had the foresight to think of broadening the girls’ education by sending them to Europe, which led to the opening of schools in London, Paris, and Rome.
Ms. Sarah Gallagher, Executive Headmistress of the Marymount International School of Rome, spoke with Vatican Radio’s Hayley Susino about the school’s 70th anniversary and the tremendous strides Marymount has made since 1946.
From just 30 students at the time of the founding, the school has evolved to include over 660 students today, enrolled from over 50 countries. Originally an all-girls day and boarding school, Marymount is now a co-ed day school, ranging from early childhood to grade 12.
Students who attend Marymount are offered an added educational value. In 1985 they adopted the International Baccalaureate diploma program to enrich the education of their students. They are also a part of a global network of 19 schools, all directed by the RSHM.
Headmistress Gallagher emphasizes that, “Our focus is on the education of global citizens who are formed within the values of the Catholic mission of the school. It’s a very rich environment for us to be able to harvest for the students.”
Mother Butler’s vision is embedded in the curriculum, which places an importance on the embrace of independent thinking and inquiry driven learning. The students are driven by their desire to not only absorb, but truly understand the material that is put before them.
Ms. Gallagher explains how the global network places an added value on Marymount:
“There is the network of alumni from schools all over the world and because of the nature of Marymount, these alumni tend to be very well placed in their home countries or internationally in business, politics, diplomacy, law, education, and the students benefit from that connectivity and interaction.”
Although Marymount is a Catholic school, they welcome students of all faiths and backgrounds. The roots of the school stem from France, where the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary was established by Father Jean Gailhac in the middle of the 19th century, with the purpose of providing young women an alternative life path to prostitution. He reached out to those on the social and economic margins of Southern France, founding the school on the practice of an inclusive mindset.
“Gailhac’s vision is and was to make God known and loved. That is at the heart of our schools and all of the students who join us are able to embrace that through the RSHM mission. The students understand that and can connect to it, whether they do it from a faith based perspective or from the perspective of understanding our connectivity as a common humanity both to one another and to the planet which we should responsibly inhabit,” says Ms. Gallagher, expressing the importance of tolerance throughout the student body.
The cultural diversity of Rome and the student body is also reflected in the curriculum of Marymount. Ms. Gallagher says that, “the school is very aware of the rich tradition of Rome, its cultural history, and its church history. It is also very aware of Rome in its modern context and the nature and shape and contours of the society in which our students are growing up in this moment in time.”
Although the Marymount International School of Rome has developed into a top ranking institution, it is always looking to the future for new opportunities to advance the education of the student body.
Headmistress Gallagher describes the emphasis placed on education:
“As I look around, I increasingly feel that in the media and in discussions, there is a dispirited sense of the level of political discourse and engagement. It’s very important for us as a school, that the preparation we are giving our students is preparing them for a world in which that diminishing hope and political discourse is set to one side and we move back to a much more hopeful and grace-filled language.”
At Marymount, Ms. Gallagher elaborates, “We believe in educating our students in their civic connections in this moment. It gives them meaningful engagement at the local level to help them to realize the impact and influence that they have for good, despite the barrage of negativity, hopelessness, and helplessness that they might pick up from the media discourse on contemporary life.”
In terms of preparing digital learners, the Marymount schools in London, Paris, New York, and Rome are pioneers in introducing Fabrication Laboratories. ‘Fab labs’ are spaces that allow students to create digital content.
Ms. Gallagher explains that, “The computational thinking which characterizes a 21st century learner, finds its full expression in a fab lab.” They are equipped with items like 3D printers, laser cutters, and robotics kits, and are open to all students at the school, as well as members of the community.
Marymount encourages mindfulness and a contemplative view of life in a noise-filled world. They are also aware of students’ need to develop presentation and public speaking skills:
“The business of preparing to persuade an audience of one’s ideas or opinions has remerged in a world where top job and university interviews have given increased privileging to oral presentation,” expresses Ms. Gallagher.
She continues, “The end product is a very confident, articulate, poised, eloquent student who presents well, but more importantly has a substance to the presentation. I think this is the objective of the education that Mother Butler envisioned and we are continuing to vision as those who have been fortunate enough to follow in her footsteps.”