Statement from the Provincial Minister concerning the closure of Friaries
Statement of our Provincial Minister, Br. Seán Kelly, on the forthcoming closures of St. Anthony’s Friary, Carlow and St. Francis Friary, Rochestown and the withdrawal from residency in St. Francis Parish, Priorswood.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Every three years the Capuchin friars gather in what we call Chapter. We do this in order to elect our leadership and to pray and discern as to how best we may follow our call to be Capuchins and better serve the Church, the people of God.
At our last Chapter we took some time to really examine our ability to maintain our presence and apostolates in nine communities across the country with now only 65 friars with an average age of 78. For perspective, when I entered the Order in 2002 we had 114 friars with the average age being 70. A huge change you will agree.
The friars in Chapter decided therefore to enter into a period of discernment tasked with ensuring a more realistic distribution of the brothers and making closures where necessary.
This period of discernment has now come to an end and amongst a number of changes it is my sad task today to inform you that our time in Carlow and Rochestown is drawing to a close. As to the administration of the Parish of Priorswood in Dublin we will do so from our fraternity in Raheny,
I want to assure you that this decisions were not taken lightly, but only after much consultation and prayer.
When Rochestown friary was founded in the 1870’s it was the first of our friaries to return to regular religious life after the penal times and it was the first house of the friars in which, in defiance of the laws of the land even then, the friars wore publicly the brown habit of our order. It is an important place to us and to so many friars who have given years of their lives to the friary and to the college. Those brothers who have provided for the spiritual, moral, sporting and artistic education of generations of young men who have passed through its doors are remembered by so many and many of their mortal remains await the resurrection from our little cemetery close by.
Over the years Rochestown became the cradle of the order in Ireland, St. Francis College being founded first as a Seraphic School in 1884 to encourage vocations to the Order and then becoming a boarding school from which many young men entered the Order and went forth to bring the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. The friary also served as a Novitiate house for much of that time, though we are sad to note that the college has not had a vocation to the Capuchins since the late 1980’s.
Now, with its days of boarding pupils long over, it has become one of the pre-eminent secondary schools in the country. It continues to form young men in faith and wisdom grounding them in Catholic values, in the spirit of St. Francis, and in academic excellence; for this we friars are truly grateful to the Board of Management, to the Principal, and to the staff and parents association.
While the friary is closing we want to affirm our continued support of the School. The friars will continue as its patrons, sitting on the Board of Management and providing a “Link Friar” to offer sacramental and pastoral assistance and Franciscan formation to the school community. The closure of the friary will in no way affect the running of the College.
When the friary in Carlow was opened in 1978 it was created with the express purpose of being a house for Postulants to our way of life working in collaboration with the nearby Seminary of St. Patrick’s College. Many young men passed through the friary testing their vocation with the friars. Many brothers gave stalwart service to the friary, to the college and indeed to the people of Carlow over those years.
However with the closure of the Seminary and the falling numbers of those seeking to discern a religious vocation, (there have been no postulants in Carlow since the early 90’s) to say nothing of our own falling numbers and aging profile the moment has come when we can no longer sustain the friary community in and for the sake of the better life of the friars and so as to ensure our overall future we will be withdrawing from both Rochestown and Carlow after our Provincial Chapter in July of 2022.
One final change will be the way we administer the parish of Priorswood in Dublin. While the friars will continue to provide the parish clergy, from August on they will be resident in our Raheny friary rather than on site beside the parish church. This is so the brothers may live out their lives as part of a Capuchin community while still giving their best service to the people of Priorswood. This is a return to the way the Parish was first run by the friars in the mid 1970’s.
We all know that times are changing, and the face of the Church in Ireland is changing too, but we friars have always been called by St. Francis to be pilgrims and strangers in the world, abiding not long in one place so as to ensure the constant rebirth and renewal of the Gospel. Please pray for us that these difficult but necessary changes may bring renewal to the Capuchins in Ireland, and please pray for an increase of vocations to priesthood and religious life. Above all, please pray for the friars who will be directly affected by these closures for their constant witness to our way of life, their generous service of the people through these most difficult years and for their willingness to hear in the discernment of their brothers the call of the Holy Spirit to renew our way of life once again.
We know that this is a sad day for many of you, just as it is for us.
No Provincial wants to be the bearer of such news and no community wants to live through such a closure or radical change. In the midst of our sadness today we hope that you will also join us in gratitude for the many years we have lived and served amongst you all and for the many people; the staff, volunteers and benefactors who have made our way of life possible in Carlow and Rochestown and indeed Priorswood over the years.
When it comes to the places we are leaving we know that when we go we leave a place that will always be a part of our story and your story and a place filled with the spirit of St. Francis and Clare.
We want to thank especially the current Bishops and their predecessors, and the clergy and staff of the dioceses for their constant support over the years and their gracious understanding when I informed them of these changes.
Finally, brothers and sisters let me share with you an old proverb that comes from one of the most difficult times in Irish religious history, “Is cuimhin leis an tir na Manaigh”, The land remembers the monks. That’s how our ancestors felt when they saw monasteries being closed. They knew that even with the monks in exile and the churches closed nothing could expunge the spirit and heritage of prayer and peace created by the life of those dedicated to faith. We hope and pray that such a spirit will be our lasting gift to the people of Rochestown and Carlow and our continued gift to the people of Priorswood and we promise you our continued remembrance of you and of your families in our prayer wherever the years may take us.
Thank you for your attention.
May the Lord bless you all +
Br. Seán Kelly OFM Cap