St George’s Cathedral in Southwark was packed with well-wishers as the friends, family and colleagues of Mr Desa gathered to celebrate his 36 years of service to Catholic Education.
The Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark was the Principal Celebrant and welcomed the visitors, citing Mr Desa’s career as "a fine example of dedication to the mission of the church."
In his homily, Archbishop Peter made reference to the high standards achieved in Catholic schools, which are achieved through the example of the risen Christ inviting all young people to discipleship within the church – young people are valued for who they are irrespective of academic achievement. Mr Desa stands out as a wonderful example of faithfulness in all the schools he has served, and in particular for his achievements during his 15-year tenure as Headteacher at Bishop Thomas Grant School.
The service was devised and prepared by School Chaplain Mrs Hallam, with prayers and readings from current school pupils and prefects. After the Eucharist, Chair of Governors Kathleen Robinson MBE paid tribute to Mr Desa’s strong leadership which had transformed a failing school into the outstanding school it is today, where pupils succeed and feel safe, secure and valued. Miss Robinson then presented Mr Desa with a blessing from Pope Francis.
The highlight of the event was agreed to be a most moving rendition of Panis Angelicus by Mr Desa’s son Charles, accompanied by former Head of Music Mrs Poole. The school choir, conducted by current Head of Music Mr Beston performed to a standard evinced by the best school choirs in the country – it was mentioned on more than one occasion that Bishop Thomas Grant School is now amongst the top 100 non-selective state schools in the country thanks largely to Mr Desa’s commitment to excellence for all his pupils and staff.