St Joseph’s Mercy Convent was founded on December 3 1853 by Sister Mary Catherine Atkinson and Sister Mary Joseph Morgan. The much- needed school had been the dream of Father Eugene O’Reilly, the then parish priest of Navan. His memory is honoured by a bust of him in the nearby St Mary’s Church, near the Market Square.
Mid-1800s Navan was a typical provincial Irish small town of harsh contrasts. The children of the wealthy were privately taught, for others there was little hope of even learning to read.
The first St Joseph’s school was established in Bakery Lane off Trimgate Street. The building was funded by the Duke of Bedford. Nowadays the school has impressive facilities teaching a wide range of subjects, but for the 1800s working class Irish girls, the emphasis was on practical skills such as cookery and the immensely marketable needlework, a trade for girls who were expected to help support their siblings. Reading, writing and arithmetic were quickly added to the curriculum.
By the late 1800s, St Joseph’s had acquired a strong reputation for music. French and elocution were also being taught, and the beginnings of its present-day academic tradition had been established. In 1910 the original primary school and the building which now houses the library with its high arched window, flanked by side panels, were built by the Delaney Brothers.
In 1925 the school was registered as a Secondary School. A Government Grant in 1969 allowed for the construction of the main block of what is now St Joseph’s Secondary School.
Today the school building has been totally renovated, extended and updated. It is a modern centre of learning with an excellent reputation. St Joseph’s continues to be true to the spirit of Catherine McAuley in creating a welcoming environment and offering all students an opportunity to reach their full potential.