Early History of the Monastery

Dom Athanasius Donovan, a native of Murroe, County Limerick, was the first superior of Mount Saint Joseph. It was under his guidance that the old mansion, now the guesthouse, was transformed into a temporary monastery, and in 1879, the year after coming to Roscrea, the building of the new monastic church was commenced. The architect was William H. Beardwood, who practiced in Dublin and Manchester. The stone for the Church was quarried on the land. Several of the monks , as well as a large contingent of outside masons and labourers, worked on the building.

On 18 September 1881 the Church was dedicated and opened to the public – an extraordinary achievement in such a short period by a community burdened by a major mortgage. The preacher on the occasion referred to “the pious donations that have poured in from benefactors near and distant, the tasteful devotion which has raised these massive columns, and converted the very windows into books of golden instruction”, so referring to the eleven stained glass windows that were in the place from the beginning.

Only three years later, 9 August 1884, the Church was solemnly consecrated, by which time altars, choir stalls, and rood screen were all in place. While interest had been paid faithfully twice yearly on the mortgage, the capital sum had not been reduced. However, the mortgagers allowed the Church, the monastic buildings, gardens and avenues to be excluded from the mortgage, so making it possible to consecrate the Church.

Mount Saint Joseph was constituted an Abbey at the end of 1886, and in August 1887 Dom Camillus Beardwood, bursar of Mount Mellaray and brother of the Mount Saint Joseph architect, was elected Abbot. Under the guidance of the two Beardwoods, Abbot and Architect, the monastery buildings were completed and the fine farmyard begun.

From the beginning, farming provided the main source of income for the Community, many of the monks being deeply involved in this work. There were only two expenditure items for March 1878 in the Monastery account book: March 23 – Two yearling heifers J. Delaney – £13.10.0 March 25 – Bullocks & Milch Cows at Roscrea £444.10.0

On the 4 February 1902, Count Moore was at Mount Saint Joseph, and together with Abbot Camillus and Wm. H. Beardwood, chose the site for the projected College. The Count paid £2,600 towards the building of the College, which was opened for the first fifty students in September 1905. Its story fills a 500 page volume “Cead Bliain Faoi Rath”, published for the Centenary, by which time enrolment reached 300 borders.

As time went by the strength of the community at Mount Saint Joseph led to the foundation of other monasteries not just at home, but also much further afield. The first foundation was made in 1946 at Nunraw, on the slopes of the Lammermuir mountains, about 25 miles from Edinburgh. This was the first Cistercian house in Scotland since the Reformation. Roscrea achieved another ‘first’ in 1954, when a foundation was made in the archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia. Bolton Abbey, Moone, County Kildare, became Roscrea’s first Irish foundation in 1965. This came about through the munificence of Dr and Mrs Robert Farnan, and the good offices of Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin.