Glenstal Abbey reopening: Boarding school faces special challenges

Monastic community and students to use distance and dining rotas to avert Covid-19

Glenstal Abbey’s international students will isolate in the school away from others for two weeks before even venturing within the school. Photograph: Frank Miller

Glenstal Abbey’s international students will isolate in the school away from others for two weeks before even venturing within the school. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Every school in the State is making plans for a return of pupils, but the Benedictine-run Glenstal Abbey day and boarding school in Murroe, Co Limerick, has special concerns not faced by many schools.

“There are challenges in a boarding school,” says the school’s principal, Carmel Honan, who must look after boarders, day pupils and the abbey’s monks, even if the latter are better than most in the ways of socially distanced living.

“What’s paramount here is safety, and our school community includes a monastic community, some of whom will come into the cocooning age bracket,” Honan told The Irish Times.

The abbey is in touch with boarding schools in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand “to pool resources”, she went on: “None of us thought we’d be doing this, you wouldn’t have imagined it in your wildest dreams.

“While health and safety is always to the forefront in schools, it’s now more than that; it’s the care and health of everybody that comes in and out of the school community. It’s added pressure on everybody.”

Sick bay

Glenstal’s international students will isolate in the school away from others for two weeks before even venturing within the school: “We’ve been in touch with all their parents to explain what is happening,” she said.

Covid-19 testing will be carried out on the abbey’s grounds if a suspect case arises: “We will conduct the tests [here] – we have a health centre – and send them on. We have to have a health centre because of the boarding school.”

Every boarding school has a sick bay, and Glenstal’s one will stay available for “the ordinary things that befall people in life”, but a special Covid “sick bay” has been created for anyone who does come down with the virus.

Daily temperature checks will take place, while hand sanitisers will be dotted around the campus. Reporting of cases is “mandatory”, while staff feeling poorly are “not to turn up for work”, she said: “Everybody’s safety is paramount.”

‘Personal responsibility’

Meanwhile, pupils will be kept separate wherever possible. A “rotational” dining rota has been put in place for senior and juniors so that they eat separately: “Normally everybody would have had their lunch together.

“Obviously there’s a degree of personal responsibility. It’s a daily education of collective responsibility. Certainly, we are looking forward to seeing all our students because they are the lifeblood of any school,” she went on.

Glenstal has a major advantage over most other schools, though, its 500-acre estate – one that comes equipped with so-called “God Pods”, hermitages that offer a space to “pray, slow down and refresh your spirit”.

Usually, the pods, advertised as coming without wireless services, are available to rent for three days. They are intended “for those who seek God within and who are comfortable in the quiet and solitude”.

However, the pods, a kilometre away from the main abbey, are not isolation rooms: “They are deliberately in a place where you are not to be interrupted. They are retreat pods for adults,” Honan explained.