The people behind the school names
Did you ever wonder who exactly are the local luminaries that the secondary schools of Luxembourg are named after?
The trend to name schools after people started in the 1970s and, by people, it means local leading lights from politicians and philanthropists to steel magnates and trade unionists, geologists, poets and athletes – and even a countess.
To begin with, it was mostly famous men from Luxembourg’s history, but in the 21st century, a number of women also had schools named after them.
Part of the Geesseknäppchen complex, this school was originally founded in 1968 as the Nouveau Lycée de Luxembourg but was renamed after the local 19th century poet Michel Rodange in 1970, best known for his epic poem De Renert (The Fox) first published in 1872. It’s the Luxembourgish version of Reineke Fuchs, a 15th century story that was famously interpreted by Goethe. Rodange’s later version is a satirical fable of Luxembourgish characters, including a sly fox.
Rodange was born in Waldbillig and was a schoolteacher at Steinsel and Larochette, later working for the city of Echternach. The school counts amongst its alumni Jean-Claude Junker. Rodange has also been featured twice on postage stamps.
One of Mamer’s famous natives, Joseph “Josy” Barthel was, and is, the only Luxembourgish athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, which he did at Helsinki in 1952 for the men’s 1,500 metre race. Barthel was not all brawn, and had a successful career in science. He was also part of the Luxembourgish government from 1977 to 1984. In 1962, he became the president of the Luxembourg Athletics Federation, and later headed up the Luxembourgish Olympic Sporting Committee. In addition to a school, the country’s former national stadium was named after him.
Socialite and women’s rights campaigner, Aline Mayrisch de Saint-Hubert was responsible for establishing the Luxembourg Red Cross, of which she was president. Married to the industrialist and Arbed president, Emile Mayrisch, she lived in Dudelange and later Colpach. In 1905 she set up the League for the defence of women’s interests, which successfully campaigned for a public girls’ school. Not one, but two, were founded six years later, one in the city, the other in Esch-sur-Alzette.
During the first world war, Mayrisch set up a hospital for servicemen. A supporter of arts and literature, she published articles on German painters in addition to literary criticisms. So it’s unsurprising that when a new school in the Geesseknäppchen complex opened its doors in 2001, it was named after this inspiring woman.
The Limpertsberg school with an international section took on the name of this native geologist in 1979. Born in Reimberg (which has a walking trail in his name through some forests), he worked as a teacher from 1896 to 1913. Founder and head of the country’s Geology Survey, Lucius gained a doctorate in Zurich in 1912, and worked as a Geologist in Russia from 1914 to 1922, and then in Turkey from 1924 to 1933. Lucius wrote several geological publications including seven on the specific geology of Luxembourg. He also produced eight geological maps of the Grand Duchy before he died in 1961.
Robert Schuman was born in Clausen in 1886 and died in 1963. A Christian Democrat politician, he was prime minister of France twice, and minister of finance and of foreign affairs. However he is probably best known as one of the main architects of the European Union, the Council of Europe and NATO, and was even recognised as Venerable by Pope Francis in 2021.
The Father of Europe, as he was nicknamed, had the former girls' school founded by Aline Mayrisch renamed after him in 1972, following reforms that allowed co-education. The school was chosen to bear his name because of its proximity to Kirchberg, home to a number of European Union institutions. Over the years it has been enlarged.
Also born in the 1880s, Anne Beffort was an educator, literary writer and biographer, who wrote works on Victor Hugo. The daughter of a gardener, and one of 12 children, she was born in Neudorf. She studied French literature at Münster University in Germany and the Sorbonne in Paris, and was one of the first women from Luxembourg to obtain a doctorate for her thesis on French poet Alexandre Soumet. It was Beffort that persuaded the Luxembourg state to buy the house in Vianden where Victor Hugo had resided in 1871, to open a museum.
She lived in Clausen and wrote extensively for newspapers and journals, and in 1848 was decorated with the French Legion of Honour by none other than Robert Schuman, for her services to France. The International School in Mersch is named after her because she braved social obstacles to become the first woman professor in the Grand Duchy.
The countess of Luxembourg ruled from 1197 until her death in 1247. She was an effective ruler, who granted charters of freedom to several towns and worked to increase the prosperity of her country. Ermesinde is thought to have seen the Virgin Mary in a quiet spot on the River Semois, and constructed an abbey there – Clairefontaine Abbey, where her remains now lie (although the abbey was built by her son Henry V). When French troops came to destroy the abbey in 1747, the nuns hid Ermesinde’s remains in a chapel, and they were later found by the Jesuits during the abbey’s reconstruction over a century later.
The school that bears her name is a fully autonomous secondary school, founded in 2005, it moved to its premises in Mersch in 2012. It runs a slightly different curriculum offering a classical education, but also working with companies to provide practical experience to students.
Born in Paris in 1889, Clément came to live in Esch-sur-Alzette later becoming the city’s mayor and an MP. A journalist and the director of the Tageblatt newspaper which was based in Esch. A girls' school was constructed in 1955 in the city of Esch-sur-Alzette two years after he died, built on land purchased by Clement in the 1930s when he was mayor. It was not named after him until 1970.
The Lycée Mathias Adam was founded in Pétange in 1966, but given its name in 1979. Adam, born in Luxembourg city in 1850, was a teacher who also worked tirelessly for education rights, including making school mandatory for children aged 6-12 years. He also campaigned for free education for children aged 12 years and more, and co-founded a teacher’s union in 1900, of which he was president until 1918. The school was originally founded as a Lycée Technique but today offers an International Baccalaureate in French.
Lycée Nic Biever in Dudelange was founded in the late 1960s but renamed in honour of the politician and trade unionist in 1973. A steelworker, Nicolas Biever worked for the ARBED factory, first secretary of the Luxembourg Mining and Metal Industry workers union in 1919, and later president in 1938. He was also elected to the chamber of deputies in 1925 for the LSAP and in 1951 was appointed Minister for Labour, Social Security and Mines and Minister for Social Welfare. During his time as a government minister he negotiated an end to the miners’ strike of 1955. He died in office in 1965.
The newest international school based in Merl and Cessange is named after Gaston Egmond Thorn, a Luxembourgish politician who died in 2007. He was the country’s Prime Minister from 1974-1979, President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1975, and President of the European Commission from 1981 to 1985.
Thorn was born in Luxembourg City but spend his childhood in Strasbourg, returning at the outbreak of the Second World War. He joined the resistance and spent several months in prison, but after the war went on to study first medicine, then law. He became a Democratic Party MP in 1959 and was chairman of the party in the 1960s. He became prime minister of a coalition, even though his party did not hold the biggest number of seats in the coalition. When he retired from the European Commission in 1985, Thorn became chairman of what is now the RTL group, and president of BIL.
It was Metz’s widow who opened the private school in Dommeldange in 1914 to honour her husband, an engineer (and later politician) who worked for Waring Bros and was responsible for the building of the Passerelle in the city. Born in Eich, Metz studied engineering in Paris, but also headed up the Dudelange steel factory, and was active in local politics, becoming the president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1904. In 1896 he built a castle in Beggen, which today houses the Russian embassy. The private school set up by his widow offers a general diploma education and vocational training, including classes in English.