Remembering 100 years of Holy Cross

THE two smartly-dressed teenagers in their green blazers with the school's cross motif, headed up the corridor to see the rector.

The 15-year-old schoolboys were beaming with pride because they had just won a major footballing trophy for Holy Cross Academy, which was better known for its rugby tradition.

The rector duly congratulated the pair and gave them bus tokens to cross town to collect the trophy from the defeated team's school in the Southside. But as they were leaving he soured the moment by calling out after them: "I'm glad to see you're good at something."

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One of the schoolboys in the rector's office at Holy Cross Academy in Leith that day was Pat Stanton, who grew up to be a Hibs legend. Now 62, Pat recalls: "Little did he know how we would go on to progress at football. James McManus, who was with me, went to Dundee United, Falkirk and then South Africa. I still see him when he is back."

Pat of course went on to take part in celebrated European victories against giants of the game such as Real Madrid and Napoli, while also captaining Hibs to a famous League Cup triumph in 1972 and that never-to-be-forgotten 7-0 victory over city rivals Hearts. Not only was he captain of club and country, but he went on to win a league and cup double with Celtic to cap a wonderful playing career and followed his career on the park by becoming manager of his beloved Hibs in the early 1980s.

The Hibs legend is just one of the famous names whose alma mater was Holy Cross Academy in Leith. The school closed in 1969 but former pupils are set to get together to celebrate the centenary of Edinburgh's first Catholic senior secondary school with a grand reception next week.

Entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, his predecessor Cardinal Gray and arts impresario Richard Demarco, attended the school, as did two British Ambassadors, Sir James Hodge, former ambassador to Thailand and Anthony Layden, ex-ambassador to Libya and former Solicitor-General for Scotland, Lord John McCluskey. Frank McWilliams, former Lord Mayor of London, was also a Holy Cross alumnus.

As well as Stanton and McManus, the school produced a host of other well-kent footballers such as Jimmy O'Rourke and Davy Hogg of Hibs and Malcolm MacPherson, who played for Raith Rovers.

In spite of his rector's ill-considered comment, Pat says he has only fond memories of his years at Holy Cross. He says: "It was a happy part of my life. I remember we won the Evening News trophy in the Edinburgh Football League for the first XI. Up till then Holy Cross was better known for rugby.

"I was about 15 and Jimmy O'Rourke and David Hogg, who both went on to play for Hibs, were also playing. A lot of other schools like Ainslie Park and James Clark School had strong traditions of football. We had to go to James Clark School in the Southside to collect the trophy."

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Pat had to get two buses to school from his home in Craigmillar. He remembers the teachers, who wore black gowns, being strict and he got the strap once or twice. He stays in touch with many of his school friends, including O'Rourke.

Holy Cross Academy was opened in 1907 with the main aim of providing a supply of better-educated Catholic teachers. It provided a free education and was a school where boys and girls from housing schemes sat alongside the children of professional people. It also had a primary school set up at the same time.

The school was ultimately merged with St Andrew's Junior Secondary to become part of St Augustine's RC High School. The old Holy Cross building has now been demolished and all that remains are part of the wall and gates.

Jimmy O'Rourke says he has very happy memories of Holy Cross. Jimmy, a lifelong Hibs fan, signed for his boyhood heroes directly from school at the age of 15, and scored around 120 goals for the club. He and Pat Stanton were the goalscorers in that 1972 League Cup win over Celtic.

Yet despite the number of top footballers it produced, Jimmy agrees with Pat that Holy Cross had more of a rugby tradition. He says: "It was a great school but it was a rugby school. We won the cup for under-15s in third year wearing rugby jerseys. The footballers were classed as ruffians."

Jimmy, now 61, lived in Clermiston and got the No 1 bus to school every morning. He particularly remembers his PE teacher Donald Corr. "I believe he played rugby for Scotland. Lunatics like me would be up and down the wall bars before the class started and he'd come in and blow the whistle very faintly. He was very strict and made you do press-ups if you misbehaved."

The centenary celebrations start on September 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross, with a mass in St Mary's Cathedral on Broughton Street. A reception is to take place in the evening, followed by a dinner for 300 guests at Prestonfield on September 15.

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One of those on the organising committee is Richard Demarco, a former school captain and rugby and cricket skipper. Richard, who attended the school between 1943 and 1949, says most people in Edinburgh know someone who attended. He says: "It was a tragedy when it closed and I was shattered when it was demolished. It was the only Roman Catholic secondary school in Edinburgh and a full-blooded academy."

He added that he had sold many of the limited edition prints of paintings he did of the school while a pupil there. He plans to put the money raised towards the publication of a book documenting the school's history.

One of his strongest memories is of his art class, where his teacher, Miss Theresa Clarke, told the gifted pupil to sit at the back at the same desk which late sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi had used. "I was shown all of his wonderful drawings," he beams.

Cardinal O'Brien, also the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has spoken of his "very fond" memories of being educated at Holy Cross Academy.

He was only one-and-a-half years there because his family moved from Glasgow when he was in fourth year, but he said: "Holy Cross Academy has been vitally important for the sons and daughters of Catholic families."

A website about the school has been set up and past pupils have been encouraged to send memories and photographs. One 1918 newspaper cutting tells of former pupil Sergeant-Pilot John Dempsey, an airman from St Stephen Street who escaped from a German internment camp after being brought down in combat over France in April 1917. He was forced down from a height of 10,000 feet, captured and spent a year in a camp in Germany before escaping and making it to the Dutch border "after five terrible days of privation".

Looking back at his school career, Pat Stanton only recalls happy memories. But if he has one regret it is that, carried away with his love of the beautiful game, he didn't work harder at his academic studies. He reflects: "It's only in later years that you look back and see the opportunities that you had but didn't take. I have a hint of regret that I didn't apply myself as much as I could have done. If I was giving advice to children nowadays, I'd say 'stick in at school'."