History of St. Leo’s College
Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Mercy congregation recognised the lack of educational opportunities for the Catholic youth of her day. She herself travelled to France to study their system. It is not surprising then that on the arrival of the first sisters to Carlow a school was high on the agenda. That school opened its doors to the first students on the 1st May 1839. The school building was part of the convent and the sense of urgency was so great that the school section was completed before the sisters’ accommodation was ready for them. The present community/living room was the first school. It was one large room and the pupils were organised in little groups or clusters. The age of the pupils varied; some were just beginners and others were in their teens. The group work met the needs of each individual. The school was referred to as the “Pension School” as a small fee had to be paid by those who could afford it. The name no doubt came from the French. The numbers grew initially but the famine years brought a decline. When Parliament established the National Examining Board the pupils sat for its examinations, the first recorded in 1879.
Records show the school income was £130:8:6 and in 1881 it was £135:10:6. This included £15:15: 0 from the Intermediate Board.
Two rooms were built on the site of the present buildings. Today those two rooms are combined and give us a very fine large Music Room. Mathew Fay who had a relative in the community donated the money for this building. A plaque still remains on the wall to his memory and generosity.
The “Technical System” was begun and an addition for it made to the Pension School. This provided facilities for the teaching of Science, Domestic Science (now called Home Economics) and Music. This building is the present Cookery Kitchen on the ground floor. The room overhead was the Science area and the Music area.
The Inspectorate was set up and St. Leo’s was one of the very first schools to be visited. This report is available. In summary it gives an account of the state of the building, method of heating, ventilation, an assessment of the teachers (by name) and their work. The subjects referred to were French, German, Mathematics, English literature and composition.
The boarding school came into existence almost unknown to anybody. The nuns in convents in Graiguenamanagh, Leighlinbridge and Monasterevan requested St. Leo’s, to accommodate some pupils who would benefit from second level education but who had no opportunity of receiving it. They were accepted. The late Sr. Michael O’Leary was one of the earliest boarders.
A one-storey building was erected which contained five rooms including a gallery and a stage. The rooms were separated by wood and glass partitions that rolled back. These classrooms served as a study hall and concert hall when required. The top room was on a higher level and formed a stage. Many school musicals were staged there. The last was “Iolanthe” 1955.
The first Gymnasium was built (now the Grotto Rooms). The top floor provided sleeping accommodation for the boarders.
Three rooms were built over the original two of 1891. These rooms are the ones ending with the “seven windows” room.
The five rooms built on the ground floor in 1923 were replaced. The outer wall was extended into the adjoining garden and the main corridor was made wider. At this time, also a new refectory was built for the boarders and a parlour was also added. The parlour is today the prayer room. Over the refectory the Assembly hall was built. The old refectory was attached to the convent. In the early stages the boarders slept in part of the convent.
Three dormitories, three class rooms, a Science Laboratory and a preparation area were built. A new P.E. Hall was erected on the land stretching to the Station Road. The sisters bought this land from the local Veterinary Surgeon Mr. Larry Murphy. The field was turned into an outdoor basketball court, two Tennis courts and a P.E. Hall. The stables were converted to a changing room with toilet and shower facilities.
In the late 1960′s there was an upsurge in pupil numbers due to the introduction of free education and transport. In August 1969 four lay members were appointed to the permanent teaching staff. This was a “first” as no full time lay teacher had been previously employed. The school had some part time lay teachers over the years in particular in the P.E. department.
A department grant was sought for the first time. The sisters bought a piece of land from St. Patrick’s College that was to be used for further extension. In 1982 that extension was opened. A three-story block was opened and blessed by Bishop Patrick Lennon on 24th September. It consisted of 11 class rooms, Geography room, Library, Art room, Craft room, two Cookery Kitchens, two Science Laboratories, Staff room, Guidance Suite and Assembly Area with an adjoining kitchenette. At this time the field bought from the College in the 60′s was laid out as a Hockey Pitch with a six-lane running track surrounding it. The grant referred to the school building only and no support was given towards the development of the field.
Day pupil numbers kept increasing; Vocational Schools could now sit the Department exams (in the early days this was not so). As the need for boarding schools was not as urgent, it was decided to phase out the boarding school. The last boarders sat their Leaving Certificate in 1985.
The school celebrated 150 years of Continuous Education. To mark the occasion a very fine modern Gymnasium/Sport Hall was erected at a cost of £500,000. The complete cost was borne by the school. The Sisters of Mercy gave half the cost and a finance committee collected the remainder.
This decade has given the greatest opportunities for school development.
· A Transition Year Programme was introduced in the late 70′s.
· Technology became a subject in the late 80′s and the P.E. hall erected in the 60′s was converted into a Technology Laboratory.
· The Maynooth Initiative began in 1994. This put a strong focus on curriculum. The programme is to finish this school year.
· An alternative programme for Leaving Cert students was introduced and St. Leo’s joined in 1996. The L.C.A.P. has proved to be very successful.
· The new updated L.C.V.P. introduced a new range of subjects and so we were able to participate.
· The school has two very well equipped Computer rooms. Our library is well set up with computers.
· In 1999 we were given permission for a Home-School-Community liaison person. The original “stable” has been converted to a very fine “Parent’s Room”.
· The Minister for Education, Micheál Martin, visited the school in October 1999 as we celebrated 170 years of education. He opened the parents’ room and the computer rooms.
· In 1999 we were invited to participate in the project on the Whole School Evaluation. It is interesting to note St. Leo’s was selected in 1910 as one of the first schools for evaluation and 90 years on again we were among the 18 pilot schools. Each time French and German were among the evaluated subjects.
· In September 2000 Religion was introduced as an exam subject.
· In 2000 we opened our new Resource Room.
· In 2001 we set up a “Breakfast Club” for students who travel long distances to school or those who leave home without breakfast.
· Once again St. Leo’s is involved in another pilot project for the Department. This time it is “School Development Planning”.