Very few students attend campus religious services, figures show

Colleges and universities spend €1.5m in public funds annually on chaplains

A handful of students are turning up to weekly Masses held in some third-level colleges, new figures show.

While colleges and universities spend about €1.5 million in public funds annually to employ chaplains, attendance rates at services in many institutions are in single figures.

In Cork Institute of Technology, for example, there are about 12,000 students but average attendance at the religious services on campus is four.

The chaplain, a Catholic priest, is paid a salary of about €49,000.


At Sligo IT, which has 6,000 students, the average weekly Mass attendance is nine. The chaplain, also a Catholic priest, is paid up to €55,000.

The information was obtained from colleges under the Freedom of Information Act by Atheist Ireland.

The group is campaigning against the use of public funds to hire members of clergy at a time of cutbacks to the higher education sector.


The costs and recruitment processes involved are at the centre of an investigation ordered last year by outgoing Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan.

A spokesman for the Higher Education Authority, which is carrying out the investigation, confirmed that it is finalising the report but declined to comment further.

Records released to Atheist Ireland show that recruitment procedures and pay for chaplains vary widely.

However, the majority are Catholic and are appointed by the local bishop. Salaries are met by the colleges in almost all cases, through students’ fees or college funds.

Martin Long of the Catholic Communications Office defended the work of chaplains who, he said, provided extraordinary support to students.

This included spiritual support and pastoral care.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent