English-speaking Conference Update

Maria Hayes Franciscan World

The following is a compilation of this month’s news from the website and Facebook page of the English-speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor, composed of provinces from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Lithuania and Malta.

Rising tuition costs, declining enrollment and expensive operational fees are challenges for schools in the United States and overseas. To address these problems, Ireland’s Gormanston College, in County Meath, established in 1954 by the Franciscans and one of the country’s best known fee-paying secondary schools, will enter the free education system in September, eliminating tuition fees for students.

Private schools have suffered deep cuts in state funding after recent budgets, while the economic downturn has also affected student enrollment, with many families unable to afford fees. Enrollments at Gormanston have dropped more than 50 percent since 2008, when it had 477 students. It had 205 students in 2013, according to a post on the ESC’s website.

“In common with many similar schools, Gormanston suffered a drop in numbers, in particular since the financial collapse, but still had to incur the fixed costs associated with a much larger operation,” said Conor O’Brien, chairperson of the school board of management, in an article by Irish Independent.

Many fee-paying schools in Ireland have struggled financially due to declines in enrollment and reduced state support for teachers’ salaries. In the free education scheme, Gormanston College will not charge tuition fees, but will benefit from a range of grants — such as for building and administrative costs — that are not paid to fee-paying schools. Schools in the free education program also see a better student-to-teacher ratio. Gormanston hopes to see enrollments at 720 students during the next four to five years.

Gormanston is the second fee-paying school to enter the free education scheme in the past year. Kilkenny College stopped charging tuition fees last September. In 2013, non-resident students paid €6,000, or $8,131, while students living on campus paid €8,000 ($10,841) or €10,000 ($13,552) depending on whether the student was staying five or seven days.

“This is wonderful news for our college and gives us an excellent opportunity to spread our Franciscan vision of education to an even wider audience,” said Irish Provincial Minister Fr. Hugh McKenna, OFM. “The friars are deeply grateful to all who have made this happen.”

The Franciscans will remain at the school as trustees. In a statement, the school’s trustees said that the free education option will be more in line with the Franciscan ethos and, in the spirit of Pope Francis, of inclusion.

The English-speaking Conference posted many other topics on Facebook, including:
•   A homily written last year by Joseph Nangle, OFM, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day
•   Recent newsletters from Franciscan Action Network and Franciscan Mission Service

Over the last year, the sharing of news of its member provinces has become a goal of the ESC as the conference works to find effective ways to increase collaboration. Its website and Facebook site were created last spring.

 Compiled by Maria Hayes