Foundation Summer Letter 2021
Dear Supporters of Clongowes Foundation
In what remained a challenging environment for the Clongowes Foundation, we are happy to say that the more memorable developments were positive ones. In particular, the Foundation and our School benefitted from an act of great generosity from a past pupil who died towards the end of 2019, in his hundredth year. There were further gains to the Alberto Hurtado Endowment Fund, though as they say in the fund management business, past performance is no guide to the future; and a few past pupils undertook to fund bursary students through their six years of a Clongowes education.
A key feature of the Foundation, in its seventeen years of existence, has been the strength of support from our past pupil base. This trend was strengthened when we received a substantial gift from the late Richard (Dick) Robinson. An obituary to Dick can be found in the link below.
Dick of Newberry Hall, Carbury, County Kildare, attended Clongowes between 1932 and 1938 where he was a contemporary, in First Rhetoric, of Fr. Ray Lawler S.J., who many will fondly remember from their own days in Clongowes. In becoming a key member of the Fr. Peter Kenney S.J. Legacy Society, Richard follows in the steps of Mrs. Olivia Taaffe of Smarmore Castle, County Louth who was the first person noted, in the Editorial of the 1919 Clongownian, to have left a legacy in favour of Clongowes in her will. Richard’s legacy helped fund the refurbishment of the Infirmary and support the Alberto Hurtado Endowment Fund thereby ensuring that his benevolence will positively impact on the lives of future generations of Clongowes’ students. The Clongowes Foundation and the College are deeply indebted to Richard’s great generosity.
Richard’s contribution and the benefit of a supportive equity market helped push the value of the Alberto Hurtado Endowment Fund (the Fund), to just short of € 7m by the end of our financial year (June 2021). This is indeed a welcome development, particularly given that the Fund was only launched in January 2020, but as we have noted before the Fund will need assets of €20m to allow the bursary programme to become self-financing. The Fund will enjoy a further four year ‘holiday’ period in which it will not make any contribution to the funding of the Alberto Hurtado Bursary Programme (AHP). The Foundation will seek to use this period to build up the asset base of the Fund. The funding of the AHP through this transitional period is supported by the willingness of past pupils, the Jesuit Province and more recently some parents to directly fund bursary places and in the past year alone pledges have been made to fund three additional students through their time in Clongowes with indications of support for a further three students.
The Alberto Hurtado Programme is hugely ambitious in its scale and the Foundation is deeply committed to its success. To do the AHP the justice it deserves we have asked Martin Wallace, the recently retired assistant headmaster, to give us a retrospective of the programme. Martin came to Clongowes in 1979, the year after I left, and he played a central role in the conception and implementation of the AHP. While Martin has retired he remains committed to Clongowes and the AHP where he maintains a strong and invaluable link with past graduates.
At the end of August 2021, when nine new AHP boys arrive into Elements, a very diverse group themselves, the most remarkable aspect of the occasion is that it will be entirely unremarkable. Neither staff nor students will wonder which boys are on bursary, wonder how they will fare, or how they will adapt to a very different environment to their home life. The AHP is now robust, embedded in the fabric of Clongowes, just as we hoped it might become back in 2005 when a small group was tasked with planning and implementing the programme. At the time, the decision of the Society of Jesus to proceed with the programme was brave and visionary, some thought it ill-advised and foolhardy. How would boys from such a different background cope with the Clongowes culture? How would they cope with the standards demanded of them? The answers did not take long to emerge.
There are always good reasons to do nothing rather than be innovative. Bursary programmes in the U.K. and U.S. have had very mixed outcomes. So many bursary programmes are self-serving, cherry-picking the brightest students from the thickets and boosting the school’s academic profile in the process. This is a particular feature of many exclusive schools in the U.K. where success is measured in Oxbridge entries. Concerns have been expressed in the U.S. about uprooting children from their communities and replanting them in rarefied environments where they struggle to breathe. The success of the AHP, I suggest, is due to its moral integrity and the clarity of its creators about the aims of the programme. This was not an exercise in self-congratulating charity, nor was it a token gesture towards a faith that does justice; this was a bold attempt to transform Clongowes Wood College. There was a conviction that access to the college should be broadened and could be broadened, that the whole Clongowes community would be enriched by the resulting diversity, and that the education on offer to all of its students would be a better one when the metaphorical gates were flung open. While there have been challenges and slips along the way, the success of the AHP is manifest. It was built on proper planning, cautious implementation, the collective support of the greater Clongowes community and, most importantly, the courage and determination of the bursary students and their families in embracing the unfamiliar culture of an exclusive boarding school.
Think for a moment what it must be like to live in a disadvantaged community, attend a DEIS primary school, be part of a family that has no experience of third level education, possibly dependent on social welfare. You know your son has great qualities. They may be academic, they may be sporting, they may be interpersonal. The local school and community, in spite of their best efforts, offer limited horizons. There is no tradition of third-level education, resources for other career paths are absent, there may be a prevailing ‘can’t do’ culture. The reality is that, if you live in a disadvantaged community, you need to be very fortunate to negotiate the many obstacles of which finances are only one, and not necessarily the most significant one.
We hoped that the vast majority of our bursary students would proceed to third-level institutions according to their career inclinations. Selection was not based solely on academic ability, but on the potential for the successful applicants to prosper and benefit from a Clongowes education. We expected that many of them would achieve high points and choose to study high points courses. Sure enough, as our early graduates emerged, they went to courses as diverse as Social Science, Business and Law, Medicine, Psychology, International Relations and the transition to third level ran close to 100%. One outlier went off to the U.K. to be a professional footballer. After a number of injuries, he returned to Dublin, got into Pharmacy and is now completing his Masters and gaining a national profile as a young entrepreneur. Bidemi was one of the first group in 2007 and his story is an inspiration to us all.
Sean McMahon’s story is as equally striking as that of Bidemi not only because of his many accomplishments but also because his parents, Deborah and Philip, became such active members of the Parents Association and contributed so much to the Clongowes community during their time as parents. Had Sean gone on to study carpentry in Letterfrack, he and his parents would have been no less impressive as representatives of what the AHP was attempting to achieve. His path, however, was more eye-catching. A House Leader in Rhetoric, member of the Clongowes and Dublin Youth Orchestras, member of the Senior Cup rugby team, Sean was accepted to study Physics in Cambridge where he won his Blue for rugby. He even had the temerity to upstage Joe Schmidt at a promotional lunch for the AHP.
The Georgetown episode is the most recent and the most dreamy event since the inception of the programme. An OC and graduate of Georgetown living in the U.S. with his wife and family wanted to give something back in recognition of his good fortune. He and his wife proposed to pay for one AHP graduate to attend Georgetown for the full term of his degree. When presented with this generous offer, we wondered how we might decide on the AHP student? We briefed the cohort from Rhetoric 2020 and invited them to compete for the solitary place. Three AHP students put their names forward. We prepared some competitive processes with the intention of establishing an order of merit for the Admissions Office in Georgetown. The three boys had to write substantial essays on a number of topics; their academic performances in house exams were considered too, but all three were on course to achieve maximum points in the Leaving Certificate, so that criterion was of little value. When they completed their SATs, their interviews and their personal statements, Georgetown University decided it wanted all three and offered them scholarships.
The OC sponsor and his wife were delighted. In addition to donating for tuition for one of the boys for the four years, they also donated to help fund the expenses of three scholarship students. Another OC also generously contributed to help fund these expenses. As a consequence of this generosity, the boys do not need to take on part-time jobs during term time or to worry about spending on books the money that might be needed for subsistence. All three are spending the summer in Georgetown pursuing summer courses that allow them their first experience of face-to-face teaching after a Covid- disrupted first year. These three young men are already outstanding ambassadors for Clongowes and the AHP, but their journey has only just begun. Their story will inspire others, especially children living in straitened circumstances who dream of having the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The launch of the Endowment Fund in Jan 2020 was one of the most significant and recent moments in the AHP story for two reasons. First of all, the prospect of guaranteeing the programme into the future is very attractive. Secondly, the night of the Fund’s launch offered an opportunity to showcase the impressive stories of four of our bursary students, two OCs and two in their final year in Clongowes. Eoghan McLoughlin, Sean McMahon , Julian Ospina (one of the Georgetown three) and Michael Quinn Keogh (a name to remember for the future). These young men charmed the audience with their maturity, intelligence and confidence. Importantly they spoke on behalf of the AHP and the Foundation.
Has the AHP changed Clongowes in ways that can be considered transformative? As someone with the overview that comes from forty-two years experience of the college, I have no doubt that the tolerance and appreciation of diversity that operates now in the school has been shaped significantly by the AHP. The boys share their lives and education together; they have the same hopes and dreams. There is an admiration of the intelligence and diligence of the AHP students. It is worth mentioning that four AHP students have won the Saint Aloysius Award since we reached the 10% target in 2013 and the vice-captain of the school for the coming year is an AHP student.
There has been another more fundamental change, what I would call an epigenetic change. Highly successful organisations can be prone to a kind of sclerosis whereby the fear of losing their success takes hold and change becomes a dreaded thing. This, of course, is the greatest danger to every venture. Clongowes, a thriving institution in 2007,chose to make a dramatic change to its culture out of its conviction that the institution would be stronger for it and prosper.
The AHP would not have prospered were it not for the huge commitment from the Society of Jesus and its Provincial, Leonard Moloney s.j. who was, of course, Headmaster at Clongowes when the programme began. Fr. Moloney made it clear from the outset – and has repeated it several times since – that the AHP is an integral feature of the College into the future. The document Jesuit Schools: A Living Tradition in the 21st sets out the global identifiers of Jesuit schools across the world. The AHP resonates explicitly with three of these ten identifiers: a commitment to justice; interculturality and accessibility.
The pandemic continued to have a significant impact on the Foundation’s activities through the second half of the past academic year. Father Peter Kenney S.J. Day was cancelled for the second year and our planned engagement with the parent body was severely restricted. In response, Emma moved to working on a part time basis thereby helping to reduce further our extremely low cost base down.
You may have noted adverts in the national press for the role of director of development for The Clongowes Foundation. We are currently looking for somebody to take over the responsibility of the day to day running of the Foundation. I will continue to Chair the Fundraising and to work with our donor base with the express desire to maintain the historic success of the Clongowes Foundation so that Clongowes can thrive. When I initially volunteered to take over this role it was for a three-year period. I am now going into my fifth year and feel that the Foundation would benefit from some more youthful energy.
As we move into the new academic year, the focus of our activities will be on funding accommodation for the prefecting staff and making some necessary refurbishments to the 1999 Rhetoric Block. The need to attract and retain prefecting staff, some of whom may have young families, is constrained by our lack of viable accommodation. This is an illustration of how Clongowes needs to constantly adapt to a changing world so that it can remain true to its educational goal of educating boys to the best traditions and highest standards of Jesuit schooling within a seven-day boarding school environment.
Enjoy the remainder of your summer.
Joe Rooney (OC ’79)
Chair of Fundraising