Athlone Friary: Statement from Aidan McGrath OFM, Minister Provincial, The Irish Franciscans

Communicated to Friars and staff in Athlone on 17th October, and read at Masses in Athlone on the 18th October 2022.

We, the Irish Franciscans, must make a very difficult and sad announcement today, namely that we must withdraw from Athlone.  We have given this decision much consideration in recent years, but regretfully we must now face our present day reality and leave a town where we have enjoyed and valued such support and friendship for close to 800 years.  Like so many religious bodies, we must make these difficult decisions as we deal with and respond to our ageing and reducing membership.

At this time, our main concern is for the Friars and staff who will be impacted by this decision, as we will be leaving Athlone on the 6th January 2023. We will be engaging immediately in discussions to ensure that the consequences of this announcement are dealt with in the best way possible for all involved.

I want to thank in a special way our Friars and staff for the wonderful work they have done here and the relationships they have cultivated and developed in the local area. Some of the Friars here today have dedicated the greater part of their lives to serving the people of Athlone and for them this is a particularly sad day.

I acknowledge with great pride all the work done and the various struggles faced by the Friars in Athlone, dating back to 1241.  As many of you will be aware, the first Friary Church was consecrated in 1241; there was a major fire in 1398 and those serving here witnessed the destruction of the Friary in 1567. We were expelled from Athlone in 1651, but we came back soon after and as recently as 1930-2 built the splendid Church here on the site.

We Franciscans are very proud of our history here in Athlone, a history and a presence only made possible by the welcome and support received from and so generously given by the local people.

I want to thank the people of Athlone for their support – and I will also remember and acknowledge today all those who have gone before: the generations of people in this town and the surrounding area who worked and prayed with us through the good and the difficult times.

I want to pay a particular tribute today to those who gave so generously of their time in supporting our work in Athlone. Their collaboration and voluntary commitment was so important, valued and appreciated.  The people I refer to include: the Garden Hospitality Group; the Church Cleaners and Flower Arrangers; the Church Ushers; the Fundraising Committee, the Garden Fete Group from past times; and all those who enhanced our church liturgy, including the Friary Choir; the Ministers of the Word and the Ministers of the Eucharist. To all who gave of their precious time so willingly, we are truly grateful.

I wish to advise that our Mass of thanksgiving will be celebrated in Athlone Friary Church on Sunday the 8th January 2023. 

We have not made a final decision on the future of the Athlone Friary and Church at this time, however, we will be exploring various possibilities in this regard in the coming months. When we have reached a decision on the future use of the buildings,  I will make a further announcement.

And finally I ask for your support and prayers as we deal with the outcomes of this most difficult and unavoidable announcement. Thank You.