the website of the Irish Capuchin Franciscan Friars.
The Founding of
It was on 9th January, 1873 that the Capuchin
Superior in Cork, Rev. Fr. Cherubin O.F.M. Cap., secured a lease on some
property on the old Rochestown-Monkstown road, about 5 miles from the
city. It consisted of about 8 acres and had been owned by a Joseph
Mintern, a shopkeeper in Passage West. At that time it was wild, hilly
and unpresentable, but peaceful and secluded. A small farm - called
Brook Lodge - standing near the roadside was occupied almost immediately
and when canonical permission to set up a religious foundation was
received from the Bishop of Cork, a regular friary was established.
In the autumn of that same year building began, a
community was formed and regular Capuchin life commenced. Roughly
situated as they were, the friars recited the Divine Office in common,
had definite hours of meditation, did their spiritual reading, organised
public devotions and wore their habits in public.
| Living a life of poverty,
their means were slender and so they depended quite heavily on local
support, although they were not supposed to quest. At that time there
were not many houses in the locality - hardly fifty in a mile radius -
but the families that were there gave assistance and genuine
co-operation whenever the occasion arose.
In the beginning, Mass was said in what was later the old friary
refectory until the Church was completed in 1878. It was dedicated to
Divine Service on 4th November, 1878 by Bishop Neville.
| The foundation was a
success; so successful in fact that it was considered a suitable
location for the novitiate. Thus, on 14th
February, 1877 the Master of Novices, Fr. Simeon, two other friars and
nine novices arrived from Kilkenny
at the friary of St. Joseph to set up the Novitiate. However, it did not
remain long in Rochestown because the Seraphic School, which had been
opened at the friary in Kilkenny had developed so rapidly that it was
transferred to the wider expanse of Rochestown and the novitiate
returned to Kilkenny.
As the Capuchins settled down in Rochestown, they took steps to
become integrated with the local community. One of the plans they
considered was the building of a local temperance hall which could be a
social centre. Thanks to the initiative of Fr. Sylvester Mulligan, who
was backed by enthusiastic local support, the hall was built in 1913 and
has continued to play a big part in the social life of the neighbourhood.
In 1914 the magnificent Grotto, the gift of an
anonymous citizen of Cork, was built within the grounds and dedicated to
Our Lady of Lourdes. The formal opening took place on 16th
August before an immense gathering. After a procession to the shrine,
High Mass was celebrated at which the Most Rev. Dr. Cohalan - then
auxiliary Bishop of Cork - presided. The celebrant was Rev. Fr. Cyril
O'Sullivan and a special message was read from the Bishop of Tarbes and
Lourdes. During the month of May it became customary to say the Rosary
and sing the Litany of Loreto at the Grotto each night when the weather
permitted. These devotions were well attended and quite impressive
because the boys from the College enhanced the occasion by some splendid
singing. On Sundays in May the grounds were decorated with flags and
bunting for the procession which took place in conjunction with
Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
| The really big event at
Rochestown in those early days was the Corpus Christi procession. On the
Sunday after the feast a huge Eucharistic Procession, attracting
thousands from both the city and the surrounding county, took place at
the friary. People came by train, by waggonnette, by trap and walked,
thronging the grounds in honour of the Eucharistic King. It was the most
popular event of the year until discontinued on such a large scale after
1926 when the Cork City Procession was first held.
An added attraction in the grounds today is a fine statue of the saintly
Capuchin Blessed Padre Pio. The work of Andreotti, it was erected in
1981 by a committee headed by Donal Enright and will continue to foster
the religious appeal which has always been associated with the
| Almost from the beginning
the friary has been a centre of formation for young Capuchins. Not only
has the original Seraphic School been housed there, but the students of
Philosophy and Theology had received their educational training there.
On that account the friary had many mouths to fill, from very slender
resources. Although the farm supplied many essentials, regular income
did not always meet the expenses and so other houses in the Province
came to their aid. From 1917 onwards, however, the position eased
because the students of Philosophy were transferred to the new
University Hostel, St Bonaventures, at O’Neill-Crowley Cross in Cork.
Then, in 1931, the students of Theology went to Donegal
where the Order had just opened a house at Creeslough, just 20 miles
beyond Letterkenny. The novices. who had gone to Ard-Mhuire - the name
of the new foundation - in January, returned to Rochestown in September.
From that year until late in the 1960s the friary, as a novitiate house,
maintained the full strength of regular observance. It possessed a
separate identity from the adjoining college, although both houses were
under the same guardian. In 1940, however, a Definitorial enactment
dated 20th August, separated the college from the friary,
erecting it into a hospice dependent on the Provincial, with Fr. Eugene
as first President. This meant that the college staff were no longer
under the jurisdiction of the guardian. Then later, when the lay
novitiate was taken from Rochestown and amalgamated with the clerical
novitiate in Kilkenny,
the status of the friary was further reduced.
In 1970 both Institutions were again put under the
same guardian, who was probably more rector than guardian because the
importance of the college had now begun to outweigh the function of the
friary. Under pressure from an expanding enrolment - resulting
from free education (1966) - the college began physically to take over
the friary space. As demands grew, so the process continued until the
identity of the friary in its original guise was difficult to preserve,
particularly from 1974 onward when the church was closed.
| Since the opening of the
Novitiate in 1875 about 34 postulants had been received in to the Order,
but there was no regular plan whereby vocations could be encouraged and
fostered. When Fr. Seraphin of Bruges, who was Superior of the Irish
Custody, attended the General Chapter in Rome during May 1884, he found
that the question of vocations was very much on the minds of the
Seraphin of Bruges
| After much debate they
decided on the setting up of schools or Seraphic seminaries as a
permanent means of attracting aspirants to the Order. Alreadly one such
school had been set up at Ponte a Poppi in Tuscany where it was proving
to be a great success.
With this in mind Fr. Seraphin returned to Ireland
determined to try a similar experiment. He obtained permission from Dr.
Foran, Bishop of Ossory, to open such a school in kilkenny.
Thus, on 8th
December 1884 the first 5 pupils arrived at the friary in Walkin Street,
Kilkenny. They were
received by Fr. Peter Bowe, the first rector, and one of them, John
Hayden (the late Fr. Augustine) later became rector of the college and a
prominent member of the Capuchin Order.
The School at this time was far different from the
modern conception of a college. Both in its aims and in its
administration it was really a Juniorate, regulating the lives of the
pupils along lines similar to a novitiate. Boys, who were admitted to
the school were enrolled in the Third Order, given religious names and
dressed in the Third Order Habit while in the school.
However, it was a success; so much so, in fact, that on 22nd
November, 1886 it was transferred to the more promising expanse of the
new foundation at Rochestown, and the novitiate returned to Kilkenny.
|| In these early days life
for a student was very hard compared to today. For instance, students
were not allowed to talk to any member of the community without the
rector's permission, and it was not until 1906 that the boys were
allowed home at Christmas.
| Rev. Fr. Paul Neary, who
was to become the first Irish Provincial of the reconstructed province,
placed all his confidence in the school as the "foundation of the
future". No stone was left unturned to provide the pupils with the
best training and education which the times could offer. He was
determined to provide an education for the friars which would fully
equip them to meet the problems of the day. The basis of that system was
laid in the school. On 10th
June, 1887 the foundation for a new wing parallel to the Church was
laid. The building was completed in the following year and on the top
storey was housed the Seraphic School.
| It was equipped to the
best of their ability and excellent lay-teachers were engaged to help
the friars. One of the earliest of them, a science teacher by the name
of James Comerton, later became the head of the technical school in
Limerick. In spite of the fact that the main aim of the school was to
provide vocations, the general education of the students was the
essential target. At first examinations were internal, but later, in
1893, pupils were prepared for the South Kensington examinations and for
Matriculation. As a result, some of the pupils who joined the Order were
to have the honour of being the first members of a religious Order in
Ireland to present themselves for a University degree in their habits, a
fact which drew warm acclaim from Most Rev. Dr. Healy, Archbishop of
| During the last quarter of
the 19th century. many schools similar to Rochestown were making
themselves felt throughout the country. Still the Government - British
at the time - did not have a great interest in post-primary education.
About 1878 an effort was made in the form of a grant to be administered
by the Intermediate Board but the board did not have any power to
inspect schools: it just laid down the programme to be followed if its
examinations were to be taken. Shortly after 1900 the Seraphic School
accepted the system as devised by the Intermediate Board.
At that time there was Mathematics. Science,
Latin, Greek, French, English and Irish on the curriculum, and in
addition there was singing, elocution and games. From the time classes
began at 8.30am until they retired at night - around 9pm - the boys
spent about 9 hours between classes and study. During recreation they
played hurling and football in the Church field. Otherwise they had
walks in the surrounding countryside.
The boys arose each day at 6.30am - except Sunday
- and had morning meditation followed by mass in the Friary Chapel.
There were very few holidays during the year, certainly none at Easter.
A yearly fee was decided as £20, but the actual amount was always
determined by the circumstances in which the pupil lived. Reductions
were always made for the deserving. Judging by later standards. the lot
of pupils may have seemed hard, but it was no different from other such
boarding schools in Ireland at the time.
On the whole the pupils were content and
applications for enrolment so numerous that by 1898 it became obvious
that extra accommodation was needed. Not every application, however, was
accepted. There were two limitations: firstly, the prospective pupil had
to pass an examination, the standard of which was equivalent to 6th
standard in National School; and secondly, he had to have the intention
of joining the Order. So, the primary purpose of the school was never
forgotten. Standards had been raised so that those who became Capuchins
would have the benefit of a solid foundation and those who were not
favoured with a vocation would be adequately equipped to pursue a career
in the world.
On 3rd August 1896 Fr. Augustine
Hayden, who had been one of the first boys enrolled in the school,
replaced Fr. Francis Hayes as rector. During his time the old
intermediate Exam was introduced and plans made for the erection of a
new wing - the old college refectory, class rooms and rector's room.
That was completed in 1905 and amongst those who
had the first meal in the new refectory were Frs. Kieran O'Callaghan and
Paschal Larkin, both of whom later became lecturers at University
The progress of the school continued right through
the early years of the century. The roll was full, extra facilities were
added and a steady stream of boys went to the novitiate. Between the
Chapter years of 1916 and 1919, twenty-seven boys from the college had
Joined the Order. That was an average of 9 per year - a very high figure
considering that the school could hardly accommodate 50 boys. So it was
not surprising that the then rector, Fr. Bonaventure, proposed another
extension. His ideas were accepted and in 1926 the wing containing the
study-hall and priests’ rooms were added. Almost immediately the
enrolment began to climb toward the hundred mark.
friary and college in times gone by.
The advent of Fr. Eugene OCarroll as rector in 1934
marked another step forward in the development of the College. He was an
educationalist of high calibre who fully understood that the education
and training of youth was not confined to the classroom. Under his
relentless leadership the school moved on all fronts: enrolment was kept
at full capacity, educational standards improved, vocations increased
and extra-curricular activities - whether on stage, on the sportsfield
or in Catholic social life - pushed ahead with outstanding success.
| Early in the 1950s came a
crisis. An enactment of the Provincial Definitory reiterated the
age-long decision that the College was only intended for aspirants to
the Order and added "that no body be taken back for Leaving
Certificate who has not made up his mind to join the Order". As a
result of the manner in which that direction was implemented the number
of senior pupils dropped sharply in subsequent years. Consequently, the
College lost quite an amount of momentum from which it took a while to
recover. This had an important bearing on the number of candidates
available for the novitiate. Numbers almost halved for the 1950-60
decade and it became worse in the following decade, but by then the
shortage of vocations was becoming country-wide.
Then, in the autumn of 1970, the Department of
Education revealed its intention of committing the whole country to a
new scheme of post-primary education which would replace the existing
private schools by community schools.
These schools would be capable of accommodating
over 800 pupils, would provide a comprehensive curriculum, and be
equipped with the very latest educational facilities. Rochestown College
took part in the general outcry - particularly on the part of Catholic
Schools - against the plan. A full meeting of the staff, after
considering the implications, chose to continue as a distinct and
separate institution in spite of difficulties and pressure. They gave
muscle to the decision by embarking on a scheme of expansion and
development which would gain for the school many of the advantages which
the community schools would have. They built up their enrolment,
expanded the curriculum and organised a Parents' Association to support
them in their fight. That support was particularly needed at the time
because, in addition to the threat of closure, Department grants were
not linked to the Cost of Living Index. The result was that income from
Government sources lagged far behind school expenditure.
The late Fr. Gilbert Bermingham, who had an
association with the College stretching over 50 years, witnessed most of
the changes in the Seraphic School and wrote about them thus:
"Since 1970 renovations have been made to incorporate the friary
with the school; so that now, the entire Rochestown building is known as
'St Francis College'.
Gradually the number of boarders has decreased and
the number of day-pupils has increased to over 300. This huge increase
in numbers necessitated much work in the reallocation of space within
both friary and college proper. Dormitories were converted into
classrooms, 3 fully equipped laboratories, a biology and a computer room
As well as the hurling and football pitch, extra
facilities have been provided. On a slope behind the hand ball alleys
there are tennis courts and basket-ball courts.
|If we take a quick trip around the College,
it can be seen that remarkably little has changed in the general layout
of the facilities. Let us start with the Art studio which was a public
church from 1877-1974. The site of the church was moved due to the
increasing size of the congregation. The art store-room, behind the
Studio, served as a side chapel or a mortuary chapel and Room 10 was
used as a sacristy.
Above Room 10 is a room which few pupils have been in. This is, of
course, the library, which is now the Religion Room. It was used as a
choir where the community used to gather together to pray.
Our next port of call is the refectory, which happens to be the
oldest part of the school. The Refectory used to be the farmhouse,
called Brook Lodge, and it was the first church in Rochestown College.
The corridor was put up in the early days of the friary, but was taken
down in the 1960s, only to be reinstalled in 1979. It is interesting to
note that the picture of St Francis in the refectory was painted in 1937
by Sean O'Sullivan and was based on the face of a Fr. Canice.
Moving on towards the main part of the school, the staff room was
once a lay-brothers' recreation hall, and the Spiritual Director's room
was a farmworkers' dining room. The next room along the hall is the
Counsel and Guidance room, which served for many years as a store. The
canteen was a kitchen and dinners were served from the shop. The
headmaster's room was a breakfast and supper room for priests and also
has been a printing room. It is also interesting to note that the
cloakroom once housed six baths.
The study-hall was originally a refectory. It was divided by a
partition in later years into a Geography Room and the lA/lB classroom.
This partition was taken away in the late 1970s to form the large
study-hall. The recreation hall, which was a P.E. hall, was divided in
to 2 areas by a partition, erected to make room for snooker and darts.
This was removed in 1979.
The new church was opened by Fr. Conrad O'Donovan in 1962. The church
hallway is adorned with "The Patrons Of The Provinces" in
stained glass. erected in 1906 by Michael Healy.
On the first floor. the Geography Room was a study-hall from
1928-1979. Leading from it are the book office and a paint store. The
six rooms behind it were once priests’ rooms and later, boarders
The Dean of Discipline's office was an infirmary, a hot-press and
pharmacy and the adjoining room was possibly a sanatorium. The first
year classrooms were Junior dormitories and their entrance was a music
studio. The nearby closets served as a shop. The four senior classrooms
were once six small classrooms.
On the second floor, St Francis and St Anthony's were two
dormitories. The third-year classrooms were intermediate dormitories and
later became an oratory.
In the Science department, the Physics and Biology laboratories were
an oratory until 1965 and a Junior dormitory until 1971. The chemistry
room was an art-room up till 1973 and the small room was a preparation
room for art and science.
||Despite the passing of time and the many changes, the
spirit of St Francis is wonderfully alive in the school. The pupils of
today possess many redeeming qualities – loyalty, courage, generosity
and compassion for the under-privileged in society. The dangers and
temptations which face them are many and frightening. They need
encouragement, inspiration and good example in the home and in the
school. The College's job is to send the pupils into the world, not
ignorant, but morally good and courageous Catholics to make the world a
better place for their being in it.
May the Lord
give you his peace.