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Famous local school set to close

Friday, 17th February, 2017 3:34pm

Famous local school set to close

The Trustees of Cistercian College have today announced the decision to close the well-known boys’ boarding school at Mount St Joseph Abbey.

Cistercian College is a fee-charging seven-day boarding school in Offaly 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 school says a significant fall off in student numbers due to a general decline in demand for boarding facilities is the principal reason behind theclosure announcement. The monastery at Mount St Joseph Abbey is not affected by the 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.

“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,” said Dom Richard Purcell, Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey. 

“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,” Dom Richard added.

“I would like to pay tribute to the monks, parents, students and staff, present and past, who contributed so much to the College throughout its history. The school has been a vital part of life on the campus for the last 112 years and the monks are extremely proud of its legacy and what it has achieved. I hope that the Benedictine ethos, ‘that the strong have something to strive for and the weak are not discouraged’, will live on in those that the College has influenced. The educational needs of today are very different to the needs when Cistercian College was established in 1905. In many ways the school has achieved its original purpose,” Dom Richard concluded.

All staff, parents and students have been informed  that in June 2017, 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 30such 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 alternativeoptions 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.

Famous past pupils include former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his brother Barry, former Irish Times editor Conor Brady, former Tanaiste Dick Spring and former Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews.

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