One of Ireland’s best known boarding schools, Cistercian College Roscrea, is set to close after 112 years due to a significant fall off in student numbers.
The Co Offaly boys’ boarding school, located at Mount St Joseph Abbey, said there had been “a general decline in demand for boarding facilities”.
The school said there had been a 45 per cent drop in enrolment in the past decade with just nine first-year students enrolled for September of this year.
“Clearly this is unsustainable and the school is simply no longer financially viable. We were sadly left with no option but to conduct what we anticipate will be a phased closure of the school over the next 16 months,” said Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey Richard Purcell.
A fee-charging seven-day boarding school for boys run by the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists) it was founded in 1905. Currently, it has 167 pupils from around Ireland and abroad.
Past pupils of the college include former taoiseach Brian Cowen, former tánaiste Dick Spring, former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, and former editor of The Irish Times Conor Brady.
Cistercian College will cease taking any new enrolments immediately and end the majority of student services at the conclusion of this year’s Junior and Leaving Certificate exams in June.
The monastery at Mount St Joseph Abbey is not affected.
All staff, parents and students have been informed that from June the college will discontinue its existing first-, third-, transition-year and sixth-year classes.
However, in order to minimise disruption of mid-cycle students facing the State examinations in 2018, the school will consider a continuation of Junior and Leaving Certificate cycles for current second- and fifth-year pupils following consultation with parents and families and subject to sufficient demand.
Trustees at the College have been forced to subsidise the school over recent years, in expectation that student numbers would eventually return to pre-recession levels as the economy improved. But the anticipated uplift in enrolment failed to materialise.
Initiatives were introduced to increase student enrolment but with little effect.
Options such as five-day boarding, the introduction of day students, the taking of more overseas pupils and making the school co-educational were also considered, but none were considered feasible given the college’s geographic location and operating model.
The abbot said “this is a very sad day for the staff, the students and their families, the many thousands of past pupils and of course the monks of Mount St Joseph Abbey.
“The decision to close was an extremely difficult one for the community to make.”
The lack of demand generally for boarding facilities for boys has also been a significant contributing factor to the closure of Cistercian College.
There are just five religious-run Catholic schools in Ireland which offer boarding facilities, compared to more than 30 such schools in 1990.
Cistercian College is just one of two remaining boys’ boarding-only schools in the country.
Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan said the closure of the college “will be deeply felt in our diocese”.
“For over a century the contribution, and now the legacy, of the Cistercian College in the areas of Catholic education, in sport, in politics and public service, in business as well as in other key facets of Irish life, has been immense and is deeply appreciated throughout the Diocese of Killaloe and much further afield.”