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Challenge To Save Cistercian College Will Be Privately Funded

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Challenge To Save Cistercian College Will Be Privately Funded thumbnailThe Cistercian College Roscrea Parents Assocation pictured at last week's meeting in the County Arms Hotel, Birr

CAMPAIGNING PARENTS hoping to keep the doors of the Cistercian College in Roscrea open face the challenge of finding a viable proposal that will save the famous fee-paying boarding school from closing after 112 years of providing education.

The problems facing the College are very complex, because it exists symbiotically with a monastery in a time where monastic and religious life has dramatically declined - a problem further compounded by the steadily falling popularity of boarding school as an option for parents.

A packed meeting in the County Arms Hotel in Birr last week heard that all options are on the table, including the possibility of introducing five day boarding and non-boarding options - but that any funds needed to keep the school open will have to be raised independently and that the school is currently in €250,000 debt.

The Abbot of Mount St Joseph Abbey, Dom Richard Purcell, home to the 167-pupil college, has agreed to give full consideration to any viable proposal which parents can come up with regarding the future of the school. Parents were informed that no further action will be taken prior to 17th March 2017 pending engagement with the group to be formed from among parents and past pupils to explore possible viable proposals for the future of the College.

The meeting heard that the College had a running cost shortfall of €200,000 annually - a situation that will further deteriorate as years go by if not addressed.

The meeting heard that financial challenges, coupled with shifting attitudes to boarding schools and a dramatic fall in enrolment numbers had created the situation facing the Cistercian College.

The number of new first years enrolled at the College for next year is nine, a figure that would usually be closer to 20, the meeting heard.

In 2010 the monks of Mount St Joseph Abbey began subsidising the school to keep it open and fight the burgeoning financial shortfall at the college and sold a farm to finance it.

The Cistercian College costs €2.4 million per year to run and the meeting in the County Arms heard that any solution would have to be self financing, as funding from the monks of the Abbey could not be sustained any longer and that significant funding would be required to meet shortfalls over the next few years.

There are 18 full time teachers at the school, six of whom are paid by the College and the remaining 12 by the Department of Education and the meeting heard that if the College does close permanently the wind-down will be 'orderly.'

The meeting also heard that over 3,000 boys had received their education there, but that Dom Purcell pointed out that not one sustained vocation of monastic life came out of it and that the monks are concerned that 'monastic life is dwindling to the point of irrelevance.'

'To say they haven't got any monks from the boarders is unbelievable - nobody sends their son to Roscrea to become a monk,' one parent told the meeting.

'The situation has arisen where the monks feel they had no real input into the College, but they had to write the cheques to keep it open,' one members of the Parents Association told the meeting.

Fergal Cox, a pastman of the school and owner of Rock Top Asset Management, told the meeting that the future of the College can be secured and that the true potential of CCR, which he described as a 'cherished brand,' had not yet been fully capitalised upon.

'There is definitely a market out there for parents who can't afford to send their kids to Roscrea for full boarding. Five day boarding and moving towards day students could ensure the College stays open and there is also a huge untapped hinterland with big towns like Portlaoise, Thurles and Birr,' Mr Cox said, citing Rockwell, Glenstal and Newbridge Colleges as examples of such a model in action.

Current students at the school, who are returning this week after their midterm break, were said by parents to be 'inconsolable' and 'heartbroken' when they heard of the planned closure, while parents and pastmen said they would not accept the decision until every option is explored.

A fundraising effort has been started to gather enough money to guarantee the College stays open for the next six years as its undergoes a difficult transition period and already donations between €1,000 and €5,000 have been pledged to the fund by parents.

The parents group are also appealing to people on a Facebook page titled 'Save CCR' to pledge money to save the College and to encourage parents to promote the school as an option for their sons. The Facebook page says that if parents make a cash pledge and ultimately send their son to Roscrea, their donation will be offset against school fees.

'We have never needed our past students and parents more than we need them right now. We won the Cup two years against all the odds and a similar effort is required now. So get out there, spread the word and pledge whatever you can to save CCR,' the parents said on their social media page.

Local Councillor, Peter Ormond has welcomed the decision that there is now a window of opportunity until 17th March for people to work together to come up with a viable option to save the College. 'The College has been an important part of our community for over 100 years and it's important that it continues to operate as an education provider,' he said.

Cllr Ormond stated that 'there is a lot of goodwill for the Cistercian Community and we witnessed a great sense of pride for the College at last week's meeting in a Birr.'

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