A CENTURY and a half of Catholic education in Devizes was marked last Thursday when Bishop Declan Lang paid a visit to St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School.

It was in 1864 that three religious sisters arrived from France and India in the newly-established Catholic parish in the town and set up a school for poor children.

Today St Joseph’s has become a thriving primary school with more than 190 pupils.

Bishop Declan led a special Mass of Thanksgiving in the parish church, next door to the school in St Joseph’s Place.

He was given a guided tour of the school by pupils and talked to parents and parishioners, many of whom were former pupils.

Bishop Declan said: “Education of body, soul and mind has been an important part of Catholic life across the centuries. I’m pleased to see that St Joseph’s today continues to hold to the inspiration of those three sisters.”

Dozens of guests were able to chat over coffee before the Mass.

One was former head teacher Barry Hickey. He said: “It’s brilliant to come back and meet lots of old friends. I’m glad to see the school is still thriving.”

During Mr Hickey’s period in office, school dinners were cooked by the legendary Mrs Yolanda Abbandonato, under whose catering generations of pupils were well nourished.

Mr Hickey said: “It is amazing the number of school inspectors who used to drop in, but made sure they arrived between 11am and 2pm, just to be invited to stay for lunch.”

Although a Catholic school, St Joseph’s welcomes children and families from many backgrounds. Nearly half the children come from families that are not Catholic.

Headteacher Sheila Jones added: “It’s not often realised that St Joseph’s today serves more than just the Catholic community.”