13 Aug 2022

Parents vow to save Cistercian College

After 112 years the famous college is to close it's doors - declining numbers blamed.

Cistercian College

Cistercian College Roscrea

The alma mater of former Taoiseach Brian Cowan is to close its doors in Roscrea after 112 years of education.

The parents of students at one of Ireland's last remaining monastic boarding schools have vowed to fight its closure, starting with a meeting this Wednesday (Feb 22) in the County Arms Hotel, Birr, at 8pm.

The Trustees of Cistercian College Roscrea made the shock announcement on Friday that “with sadness and regret” they will have toclose the 112-year old boys’ boarding school at Mount St Joseph Abbey, an alma mater for some of the country's top politicians, and captains of industry.

However, a campaign by word of mouth and social media has kicked off to save the school, and Sinead Lawlor - Chairperson of the Parents Assocation at Cistercian College, has asked “all interested stakeholders who wish to look at the viability of the school going forward” to attend tomorrow evening's meeting.

The school says a significant fall off in student numbers due to a general decline in demand for boarding facilities is the principal reason for the decision to close down the school on phased basis.

“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,” said said Dom Richard Purcell, Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey.
“The decision to close was an extremely difficult one for the community to make. 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 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.”
Cistercian College is a fee-charging 7-day boarding school for boys run by the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists). Founded in 1905, the college has been educating students for 112 years and currently has 167 pupils enrolled from around Ireland and abroad. The school has a long and illustrious history and is very much part of the fabric of the midlands community.

The monastery at Mount St Joseph Abbey is not affected by today’s announcement. Cistercian College will cease taking any new enrolments immediately and will end the majority of student services at the conclusion of this year’s Junior and Leaving Certificate exams in June.

However, in an effort to minimise any distress to existing mid-cycle students facing the State examinations in 2018, the school’s management will consider the continuation of Junior and Leaving Certificate cycles for current 2nd and 5th Year pupils, after consultation with parents and families of the years concerned and subject to sufficient demand. The Department of Education and Skills has been informed of the school’s closure and will support the transition process for students.
All staff, parents and students have been informed that next June, Cistercian College will discontinue its existing 1st, 3rd, Transition Year and 6th Year classes. A consultation will now commence with parents and guardians of the current 2nd and 5th Year pupils to gauge demand for the possible continuation of classes and boarding facilities for these year groups up to June 2018.

The lack of demand for boarding facilities for boys has also been a significant contributing factor to the closure of Cistercian College. There are currently only five religious-run Catholic schools in Ireland that offer boarding facilities today, compared to more than 30 such schools in 1990.
Cistercian College is currently just one of two remaining boys’ boarding-only schools in the country.
The Trustees of Cistercian College have been forced to subsidise the school over the past number of years, in the expectation that student numbers would eventually return to pre-recession levels in line with the economic recovery nationally. However, the anticipated uplift in enrolment failed to materialise. Many initiatives have been introduced in an effort to increase student enrolment but with little or no effect.
A range of alternative options was also considered for Cistercian College with a view to generating additional student numbers at the school. These included 5-day boarding, the introduction of day students, more overseas pupils and making the school co-educational. However, none of these were considered feasable given the College’s geographic location and its current operating model. The school will immediately initiate the aforementioned consultation with parents of current 2nd and 5th Year pupils to determine demand for a continuation of these year groups. A final announcement on the overall outcome of that process will be made in due course.

The Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan expressed his sadness at the news. “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.

“The closure of Cistercian College will be deeply felt in our diocese. May I offer my best wishes, thoughts and prayers to Abbot Richard, College President and Principal, to Mr Brendan Feehan and to all the staff, students and school community in the difficult process of the gradual closure of the school.”

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