DEVASTATED young people have spoken of their shock and sadness after the sudden death of a much-loved teacher at a Gourock school.

Stephen Neeson, principal teacher of religious education at St Columba's High, passed away unexpectedly on Monday only days before embarking on a new life abroad.

His sudden death, at the age of only 54, has left the school and widen community stunned.

Head teacher Nicola Devine broke the news at assemblies for each year group on Tuesday and pupils, parents, church leaders and colleagues have been posting public tribute messages online.

Melissa Canney said she was 'absolutely gutted' by his death.

She wrote: "One of the best teachers in St Columba's. It's so sad."

Sarah McKenna posted: "Heartbroken to hear about Mr Neeson. The most caring, genuine guy who tried his best for everyone."

Annemarie Hannaway said: "Such a wonderful teacher and truly lovely man who will be missed so much."

Another pupil wrote: "I can't believe Mr Neeson has passed away. One of my favourite teachers and such a top guy."

Bishop John Keenan also today paid his own poignant tribute to Mr Neeson.

He said: "It is so sad, Stephen was a lovely man.

"I am completely shocked - I only spoke to him a couple of days ago and he told me of his plans to move out to Abu Dhabi with his wife Gill.

"His plans for Abu Dhabi were so fresh and he was looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

"He was a good friend to me.

"I knew him well and socialised with him.

"I've know him for five years - I met him in my first month here and we were friends from the get-go."

Only last week Bishop John visited St Columba's to meet Stephen and unveil a stained glass window in the school.

This was Mr Neeson's project and he had commissioned his old school friend Alec Galloway to create the artwork alongside pupils.

On the day he was presented with a diocesan award for his contribution to Catholic education.

Bishop John said: "He was quite emotional about the award. He has worked in the diocese all his life.

He said that when the sad news was announced at school, head teacher Nicola Devine told staff first and then each year group were called into an assembly.

Bishop John said: "The pupils were all broken hearted.

"Father Gerry McNellis was there to support them and they were invited to go into the oratory to light candles."

Mr Neeson was committed to his faith all his life.

Bishop John said: "He was an altar boy until he was 21 and a youth leader, he worked in our parish youth clubs.

"He was so full of life, so full of energy,

Mr Neeson retrained to be a teacher later in life and specialised in religious education and then became principal teacher.

Bishop John said: "The staff he worked with thought he was terrific and so did the kids.

"He wasn't only popular, he was very much loved - a man of integrity and quiet service.

"He served on pilgrimages to Krakow and Lourdes, his whole life was linked with his faith in school and in the diocese."

Bishop John said he has visited Mr Neeson's wife Gill who is being comforted by her family and their children Callum and Jenna have returned from university to be with their mum.

He said: "Stephen died far too young.

"Gill has a big family and so does Stephen, they have great family strength and they have all been very supportive."