Stella Maris Secondary Schools, Boys’ and Girls’, opened on the 8th September 1964. The initial total enrolment of both schools was approximately 400 pupils. Staffing in the boys’ school consisted of a principal and seven assistant teachers.
Mr. Dermot Denvir, previously vice-principal of St. Patrick’s Secondary School, on the Antrim Road, Belfast, had been appointed principal of the boys’ school and Miss Mary O’Boyle, vice-principal of Stella Maris Primary, became principal of the girls’ secondary. Stella Maris Primary School had been opened in 1959 with Mr. Con O’Donnell as principal.
The schools complex had been built to serve the rapidly growing population of the then Whitehouse parish. This parish had by 1969 grown to such an extent that the Down and Connor diocesan authorities decided to divide it into five separate parishes, St. Mary’s on the Hill, St. Gerard’s, St. Mary’s – Greencastle, St. James’ -Whiteabbey and St. Mary’s - Whitehouse.
On opening, the secondary schools drew their enrolment from the old Whitehouse parish, together with the parishes of Greenisland, Carrickfergus and Ballyclare. Stella Maris Girls also catered for a small number of pupils who travelled from Andersonstown.
The schools were built on an attractive seven and three quarter acre site on the Church Road adjoining the Glass-na-Braddan river. This river is of some historical significance as it forms part of the ancient boundary between the Diocese of Down and that of Connor. The whole site is overlooked by the Cavehill, providing a beautiful panoramic backdrop of changing seasonal colour.
In the 1950s the Northern Ireland Housing Trust planned the development of 366 acres of land lying to the south of Carnmoney Hill and between the Church and Doagh Roads. Provision was made for the erection of 3,800 dwellings and land was set aside for schools, churches and industry. The church Road site was offered to the late Canon John McSparran, parish priest of Whitehouse, and the purchase was completed in 1956.
Behind the schools lay what was then the largest housing development in Northern Ireland, the Rathcoole estate. Although it lacked certain community services and facilities the layout was otherwise carefully planned and beautifully developed. Roads and avenues were quite broad. Houses, had gardens front and back and the estate was interspersed with attractive green areas. Tenants coming from small, two up two down, industrial homes deemed themselves fortunate indeed to have secured a house in Rathcoole.
All denominations and none lived cheek by jowl. Community relations were excellent, children from both communities, although attending different schools, grew up together and formed close friendships.
Dr. Liam Conlon ran the Star of the Sea youth Club on the Shore Road and also organised recreational activities in the assembly hall of Stella Maris Primary. The boys’ secondary school opened its gymnasium two nights per week and Stella Maris pupils brought their non Catholic friends with them in the evenings. All played on the same football teams and parents from both communities assisted with coaching and supervision. Many Catholic boys also joined and accompanied their Protestant friends to the local units of the Army, R.A.F., and Navy cadets.
Work was plentiful. Under the 1950s development plan the Ministry of Commerce for Northern Ireland led by the then Minister, Mr. Brian Faulkner, offered considerable tax incentives and factory premises at reduced rents, to entice industrialists into the area.
Among the first to do so was Cyril Lord who established a carpet factory on the Church Road and revolutionised home furnishing by providing good quality carpet at affordable prices. Other large employers were Standard Telephone and Cable and Spalding Sports Equipment, both on the Doagh Road, Carreras and Courtaulds on the road to Carrickfergus and some years later Michelin in Mallusk.
Looking back the years 1964 to 1970 appear, truly, to have been a blissful period.