A Brief History
Schedule of Events
A Brief History
Rochestown PPU
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Tel.  4896244

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The Founding of Rochestown College


The Friary

    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 Rochestown.

    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.


The College


    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 assembled friars.


Fr. 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 Tuam.
    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 College. Cork.


    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.

The 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 were opened.

    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 rooms.

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.