On Friday, 30 August, members of the British Federation of Notre Dame Associations from around the country gathered at Hinsley Hall, Leeds, for the annual conference and AGM of the British Federation of Notre Dame de Namur Associations.  The federation is an important link for past pupils and students of all Notre Dame establishments around Britain.  Many areas where there is, or has been, a Notre Dame school have a local association, meeting on a regular basis.  Other areas, like Sheffield, no longer have an official association (although the Sheffield group still meets for Christmas dinners and similar occasions).  Members in these places have a direct membership category.

Statue of St Julie Billiart with the Notre Dame Federation Banner

  Fraught by having had a puncture on our journey from Sheffield, my friend Pat Smith and I arrived just in time for conference secretary Lorraine Platt’s excellent, relaxing zumba/pilates session.  This was the first of several optional social events, which included an evening singing popular songs, a quiz and a game of pass the parcel, involving more fitness exercises.

  Saturday morning always involves a visit to a place of interest, this year to the lovely town of Wetherby, for which we had a specially prepared leaflet about local attractions.  There was no meeting at the racecourse, so we missed having a flutter on the horses!  Before returning to Leeds we had refreshments at 10% discount in Bar 3.

  There were plenty of excellent quality handcrafted fancy goods, including scarves, knitwear and cards, made by members and friends, so we could buy Christmas presents whilst supporting the Federation charity.

  In the afternoon, president Diane Donovan chaired the AGM, which included an enlightening presentation by honorary Nigerian chief, Sr Annette Sullivan, about the order’s work in Nigeria, since 1962.  Today, most of the sisters there are Nigerians.  The country spends less on education than does any other African state.  Its greatest threats are Boko Haram, corruption, low life expectancy, poor public health provision, an increasing divide between rich and poor and high illiteracy.  The sisters promote girls’ education, believing educated women will achieve more than men are currently doing.  They aim to build a secondary school, at a cost of about £20,000, in Ogwa, where they already have a primary school.

Icon of the Holy Family, Hinsley Hall Chapel

  Evening prayer was followed by a glass of Prosecco, prior to the annual dinner, after which one member spoke of memories of visiting Rome, aged 14, for the canonisation of St Julie Billiart, who founded the Notre Dame order.  Another gave us her account of a more recent visit to commemorate the canonisation’s 50th anniversary.

  Chaplain, Fr Chris Thomas said Mass on Sunday, preaching a thought provoking sermon about humility.  For those who stayed until Monday there was a walk in Woodhouse Park and an evening showing of the film “The Way”, featuring Martin Sheen as one of four pilgrims, wounded by life experiences, who find healing during the journey to Compostella.

  We left for home on Monday having enjoyed an inspiring weekend meeting old friends and making many new ones from the Notre Dame family of past pupils, eager to meet them all again next year and for years to come.

Francesca Flynn, Notre Dame Sheffield and Mount Pleasant Liverpool