“The most satisfying thing is to have brought up a family that you’re proud of”, said Elaine Kelly, when she was once asked to give a talk on being the mother of a large family. With eight children, she knew what she was talking about!
Originally from Edendale, Elaine still remembers first hearing about the proposed new Catholic boys’ school for the area, when the priests came round in the early 1960s collecting funds for it. Elaine had married David O’Neill in 1965, but fate intervened and the following year she was widowed and left with two small sons. However, sustained by her faith, she rallied and embraced her new situation and in 1969 married Brian Kelly and moved to the Gore area.
During the following years, Elaine and Brian’s growing family of five sons and three daughters went to Knapdale School and by then they were able to go on to St Peter’s Form 1 equivalent. The boys all had time at the boarding Hostel to practise living away from home and for the sports. Elaine became involved with the PTFA and the Fair Committee. Brother Ted’s ability to charm goods from shopkeepers, to sell at the Fair, was legendary, but after his untimely death, it fell to the Fair Committee to do the same job. Luckily, being from a farming family, Elaine had many contacts among suppliers, which made the task less daunting. On one occasion the Fair was held in very bad weather and many visitors left early, but when the takings were counted, they weren’t down at all – such was the support for it in the community.
Elaine’s involvement increased when she was invited on to the Board of Governors as “an ordinary mother”. She remembers that in those days she didn’t have a lot of confidence and felt intimidated being the only woman on a board of professional men. However, Father White encouraged her to speak out on issues that she felt strongly about and her confidence began to grow. Because of Board of Governor experience, she became a Board of Trustees member and with the support of her husband Brian, was involved for about 15 years. When “Tomorrow’s Schools” was introduced, St Peter’s was very well prepared by the then Principal, Mr Kerry Henderson, so the process was very smooth. She does recall that there were a huge number of policy meetings involved on reaching goals and objectives – “putting into words what was already happening in our school because of the dedication and commitment of our staff”.
During her 15 years on the Board, she saw the culture change in St Peter’s as different principals came and went. From a time when the emphasis was on academic results and sport, to a time when the arts were promoted with music and public speaking, which became ‘cool’ for boys as well as girls.
Her own children were pupils at St Peter’s over 25 years – John, who was deputy Head Boy, went on to become Southland manager for PGG Wrightson, Stephen is an accountant, Simon is farming and Dominic is an aircraft engineer. Julian manages a big farm and sisters Natalie and Catherine are both farming too. Justine, who had been Head Girl at school, went on to become a lawyer.
Not a bad achievement for an “ordinary mother”. Elaine maintains that she looks back on the St Peter’s experience for her family through rose coloured glasses, because “for our family as a whole, it worked”.