Monday, February 27, 2017

Future of Catholic boarding schools threatened

Image result for Cistercian College Roscrea
The future of the Catholic boarding school sector faces a serious threat in a changed Ireland, following the closure of Cistercian College Roscrea, which has been described as “a very sad death knell”.

The announcement of the closure of the college, at Mount St Joseph Abbey in Co. Offaly, means there are now just two Catholic schools offering all boarding for boys in Ireland. 

These are the Jesuit Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare and the Benedictine Glenstal Abbey in Murroe, Co. Limerick. 

Two other Catholic schools, Dublin’s Blackrock College and Rockwell College in Co. Tipperary, mix boarders with day pupils.

This is in stark contrast to the 1990s when there were over 30 Catholic schools offering boarding for boys – 20 being diocesan colleges. 

Dom Richard Purcell, Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey said the decision to close was “extremely difficult” but the school “is simply no longer financially viable”. 

“The school has witnessed a 45% drop in enrolment in the past 10 years with just nine 1st Year students enrolled for September 2017. Clearly this is unsustainable.”

Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week, Glenstal headmaster Fr William Fennelly lamented the loss of Roscrea as “a very sad death knell for what was a fine part of the Irish Catholic experience” and “once a lively part of the educational terrain” which has “literally evaporated”.

He said a range of pressures over the last number of years had adversely affected the boarding landscape in Ireland. 

“The sheer fall in numbers in religious life is one factor,” he said, explaining how costs had risen for educational institutions as paid lay staff replaced religious staff who did not normally work for a wage.

“Then there was the sexual abuse issue – which did not touch Roscrea – but which made parents far more wary.”


Added to these elements, Fr Fennelly said, were other developments, for example in “free secondary education and improvements in transport”, presenting alternatives to boarding. 

And, he added of an increasing secular society, “It is not clear in Ireland where it is going to stop”.

Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe, in whose diocese the Cistercian College had operated since 1905, said the loss of the school will be “deeply felt” after an “immense” contribution to “key facets of Irish life” for over a century.

Meanwhile, parents opposed to the loss of Roscrea are set to meet to explore how to save the college, which is still catering for 167 boarders.