from "St Michael's College and Academy - A Celebration 1921-2007",
published June 2007

hosted on

Return to book contents page

Our four head teachers (click a name to read the article)

Sr Mechtilde Joseph, C.P.

sister joseph

Sr Pauline, C.P.

sister pauline

Mr James McCutcheon

mr mccutcheon

with Deputy Head
Eddie Mellan, and Assistant Heads Charlie Scullion, Brendan Dorrian & Peter Maxwell

Mr Eric Allan

eric allan

Sr Mechtilde Joseph, C.P., 1921-1950 (from p.14)

A graduate of London University, with teaching experience in Warrington and Bradford, Sister Mechtilde Joseph was appointed Headmistress of the school which was initially a Senior Secondary for girls from all parts of the county and a Junior Secondary School for boys from North Ayrshire. With her colleague, Sister Peter Mary, the then St. Michael's College – a room in the Convent and seven pupils – was opened in 1921. From that humble beginning, Sister saw a new school opened in 1923 and St Michael's College grow to a roll of almost 600 pupils.

Her position was no sinecure. One can only guess at the difficulties confronting Sister and her solitary colleague in the very early days.

The lack of accommodation, books, and materials, the building of the school, the ever-increasing roll, the disastrous fire which wiped out the entire building in 1939, plus an influx of evacuated pupils, presented untold and innumerable difficulties to this apparently frail little nun. Underneath this seemingly frail exterior, however, was an indomitable will and a physical strength which surmounted all obstacles – through her industry and ability St Michael's College flourished again, if not in stone and mortar, certainly spiritually and intellectually.

Sister Joseph, as she was familiarly known, set herself high standards and expected and received them from her pupils.

She was never known to complain of pain or illness and in a school life of so many years was never absent for even a single day.

A disciplinarian, Sister Joseph was nonetheless ever just and this quality was appreciated by all. Her high moral and educational standards made her well known as the Principal of a school which achieved an excellent position among Scotland's Catholic schools.

Sister Mechtilde Joseph retired in April, 1950, after almost thirty years as Principal of St Michael’s, and continued to live in the Convent, retaining always a very keen interest in the pupils and the school. She died in 1960, aged 75. The Requiem Mass celebrated in St Mary’s Church, Saltcoats, was very well attended.

A memory from 1934 (from Susan Clegg) (from p.14)
Fairy’s – I mean Sr Joseph’s – little ladies had such a list of rules to learn and obey. LADIES MUST always wear uniform in school, wear gloves outside, and wear hats, and MUST NEVER shout, run (except during games), or link arms.
One day, when three of us had climbed the wall by the toilets as a short cut to the Moor, we heard “Little girls, come here!” We climbed back over and stood to attention. “And where are your College hats, ladies? And your gloves?” A mad dive in our cases and we produced hats and gloves, and put them on. “Now walk! Don’t run! Don’t climb! Use the gate! Off you go.”
I’m quite sure she laughed all the way to the Convent. I’m sure she knew the hats and gloves were back where they belonged, the minute she was out of sight.

return to top of page

Sr Pauline Loughrey, C.P., 1950-1976 (from p.25)

Sister Pauline, appointed in 1950, aged 35, had been a member of staff since 1940. During her 26 years of headship, Sister Pauline served the school community with enthusiasm and tireless dedication. Her keen intellect was matched by a selfless dedication to duty; and her duty, as she saw it, was the moral well-being and educational furtherance of her pupils.

It was a time of change in schools, but, as Mr James Wallace, Director of Education, said at her Retiral Dinner - “Sister Pauline did not ever complain; she accepted inconveniences such as shortages of staff and increasing demands with patience and perseverance. She was a true servant of the school and of education.”

The highlight of Sister Pauline's tenure of office was, undoubtedly, the move, in 1965, from Irvine to the new and long-awaited, school in Kilwinning. By 1964 the secondary school roll was about 700 - classes were held in the Convent and sixteen huts had been erected in the play-ground in Irvine.

The new school was officially opened in 1966 by Bruce Millan, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

When Sister Pauline retired from St. Michael's in 1976, she went to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland where, until 1979, she taught Classics. She then volunteered for missionary duty in Africa; from 1979 until 1989 she was Principal of Cathedral Commercial School, Gaberone, Botswana.

Conditions were very different from those to which she had been accustomed in St. Michael's, but this did not deter her in any way. One of the most memorable moments for Sister during those ten years was meeting Pope John Paul when he visited Botswana in September 1988.

In 1989 Sister Pauline retired for a second time when she left Botswana to return to Britain. However, she reserved a special place in her heart for the people with whom and for whom she had worked in Africa.

On her return, she undertook archive research for the Cross and Passion Order at Mount St. Joseph in Bolton. She then moved to Ballycastle and finally, in 1994, to Villa Pacis in Belfast where she spent her remaining years and where, in 1995, she celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of her profession as a sister of the Most Holy Cross and Passion.

During her final years, in spite of her increasing physical frailty, Sr Pauline’s intellect remained as sharp as ever and she was in correspondence with friends and acquaintances in Scotland even a few days before her death in 1999.

A Mass of Celebration for the life of Sister Pauline was held in St. Winning's, Kilwinning. Pupils, staff and parents were thus given the opportunity to pay their last respects to this true servant of God whose entire life was one of dedication and commitment to others. May God grant her eternal rest.

R A Mitchell


return to top of page

Mr James McCutcheon, 1976-1994 (from p. 49)

At the start of each new session and at the start of each New Year, staff were welcomed at the door by the friendly smile and kindly greetings of Head Teacher Jim McCutcheon – a Classics teacher, a football enthusiast, but primarily a gentleman. Another long-serving, now retired, member of staff, John Mitchell, has contributed the following appreciation.

Jim McCutcheon was born and brought up in Kilmarnock, and was a pupil at St Joseph's High School during the headmastership of that eminent educationist, Mr James Breen. He was Dux of the school in 1950 and School Captain during session 1950-51. He continued his studies at Glasgow University and graduated in 1955 with an Honours Degree in Classics.

After Teacher Training at Jordanhill College, he spent two years doing his National Service in the Army.

He joined the staff of St Michael's College in 1958 and, apart from the years 1974-76 when he was Depute Head of his alma mater, he spent his entire teaching career at St Michael's as Teacher of Classics, Principal Teacher of Classics (1966-71), Assistant Head Teacher (1971-73) and, finally, as the first lay Head Teacher.

Jim was married to Joan Cullinane from Kilwinning (now sadly deceased) who joined our Office Staff in 1972. Their three sons Mark, Paul and Steven, are former pupils of St Michael's Academy.

Jim was committed to his Catholic faith and to the principles of Christian living. This was evidenced by his membership of the Catholic Men's Society and by his long period as friend and helper of the Sacred Heart Fathers at Smithstone House. He also collected annually for the Hansel Village Charity. He formed a strong friendship with Father Cornelius Burke of St Winning's Parish who was also a friend and supporter of St Michael's.


During his time at St Michael's, Jim became involved in School Football. It may not be generally known that, in his youth, he was something of an athlete himself; he was an accomplished sprinter and had a spell as a player with Stranraer Football Club.

Jim McCutcheon's tenure of office as Head Teacher was marked by a spirit of cordiality and affability. He was friendly to all and, by this means, encouraged and fostered the talents of staff and pupils alike.

Unfortunately, the last few years of Jim's time as Head Teacher were somewhat marred by ill-health. He retired in June 1994, and his untimely death at the age of 63 in 1996 came as a shock to all who knew him. He is remembered with affection by friends and colleagues alike, for his ready wit and ease of manner.

Requiescat in pace.

return to top of page

Mr Eric Allan, 1994-2006 (from p. 90-91)

I have had over 12 very happy and professionally rewarding years at St Michael's Academy – a special place with a long and distinguished tradition – a fact emphasised early in my tenure when we celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1996.

While previous incumbents had to deal with major problems and upheavals due to lack of accommodation (I am beginning to appreciate the pressures!), these 12 years have been demanding in other ways with major curricular changes seeming to emerge almost on a daily basis; such as the Higher Still programme with courses more appropriate to pupils’ previous level of qualifications.

Another significant change during my time was the demise of Strathclyde Region and the transfer of responsibility for education to North Ayrshire Council. The level of local accountability has increased markedly; also, there has been much greater partnership working with the local education officials.

In 2001, the school was inspected by HMI for the first time since 1989. Although a stressful experience for many (including me!), the final report painted a picture of a school providing a variety of very good and good experiences for its pupils and serving its local community very effectively.

Since then, the school has been visited on a number of occasions by inspectors to discuss good practice in several areas.

In recent years, one of the highlights for me has been our links with Malawi. This global citizenship link, along with our European projects, has established St Michael's Academy as one of the leading schools in Scotland for international links and has resulted in a variety of awards and certificates for the school. I was privileged to take part in the visit to Malawi and to host the Head Teacher of St Peter's School during the reciprocal visit. These were extremely rewarding experiences, made all the more so by the total support of all members of our school community.

I have been fortunate to have worked with a most dedicated group of staff at all levels and I am confident that this dedication will continue in St Matthew's. The ethos of St Michael's is explicitly founded on the Catholic values of love, understanding, and respect; our staff have always, with these values at the root of what they do, given our pupils every encouragement to achieve their full potential and develop as responsible young adults. My closest links have been with my Senior Management Team and I have had loyal, enthusiastic and supportive colleagues to help me do things right!

Over the years, I have been most impressed with the young people of St Michael's Academy. The vast majority have been a credit to themselves, the school and their families. In academic attainment, St Michael's Academy outperforms similar schools, but it is in achievement more generally that a great deal of the job satisfaction emerges. Many of our pupils have achieved great things over the years at local, national and even international level in areas such as sport, music or art while whole-school events always bring out the very best in everyone. My favourite and most enduring memory in this regard must be of the first of the recent batch of shows, “Calamity Jane”; the way in which the whole school community worked together made it a truly unforgettable event and one which certainly made me very proud to be associated with St Michael's.

I believe it is important that we remember the significant contribution which St Michael's Academy has made to education in Ayrshire. The school has played a major role in the lives of generations of Catholic young people. I feel honoured to have been involved as a small part of its history and I look forward with confidence to the future in St Matthew's Academy.

Mr E Allan

Return to main book contents page 
return to top of page