Both orders cited aging members and lack of new vocations as the catalysts for the closures.
The Diocese of Waterford and Lismore in the Republic of Ireland has announced that its Benedictine and Dominican friaries, both established in the 13th century, will close in the coming months.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan released a statement through the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore that expressed his “great sadness” over the decision. The prelate noted that both communities were led to close due to age and illness taking its toll, as well as a lack of new vocations to replenish their ranks. Bishop Cullinan wrote:
“The sight of the friars in their habits was always welcome and we were reminded that God is with us. Their churches were places of prayer, solace, and refuge. It would be impossible to adequately sum up the impact these men had on the lives of countless thousands.”
The Irish Franciscans, part of the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.), have been a presence in the town of Clonmel as far back as 1269. The original friary was briefly converted into a hospital for the poor during the Reformation, but the friars returned to their duties in a new house in 1612. The current site of the friary has held a Franciscan presence since the 1830s, but the friary they live in today wasn’t built until the early 20th century.
According to the Irish Examiner, the Order made the hard decision to close their Waterford friary in 2019. Since then the Franciscans of Clonmel have traveled to Waterford one day per week in order to maintain a presence in the city. Beginning in January, 2023, Waterford will no longer enjoy the direct support of the Franciscans.
The minister provincial of the Irish Franciscans, Fr. Aidan McGrath, however, has noted that he is working with local volunteers in the hopes that they will continue to serve the community after the Order leaves. There has been no indication as to what will become of the friary or its property after the move. The remaining Franciscans are expected to be divided among other friaries in Ireland.
The Dominicans of Waterford, whose friary is on Bridge Street, made a very similar announcement just a day later. Echoing the Franciscans, the Dominicans cited aging members and a lack of new vocations for the closure. The Dominicans noted, however, that several of their remaining 18 locations are also in danger of closure.
Prior Provincial Fr. John Treacey explained in a separate report from the Irish Examiner that Dominicans have strict rules about how many friars are needed to maintain a community. He said:
“These decisions arise from the plain fact that declining numbers mean that Dominicans have to re-group in a smaller number of centers: with fewer than 50 members under the age of 65, we physically cannot continue to staff all our existing 19 centers.” He added, “Dominicans work as communities: the Order’s Constitutions require that they be normally of no fewer than six brothers.”
Fr. Treacey went on to note that this is not the only closure of a Dominican house in recent years. In 2014, their order had to consolidate several communities, withdrawing from their houses in Limerick, Athy, Drogheda, Ballybeg (Waterford), and Ranelagh (Dublin). In the time since this consolidation, 31 members have died, and although they have been “blessed with vocations,” the declining numbers continue to be a strain on their manpower.
The Dominicans arrived in Ireland nearly 800 years ago, in 1226, and were granted permission to build a priory by King Henry III. Now the history will be all that remains in Waterford, as the Dominicans are preparing to leave by November 2022. The Irish Examiner notes that the Dominicans are in negotiations to sell their property, but there are “a number of parties” interested and it has yet to be announced who will acquire the Bridge Street friary.