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Our History


Per Caritatum ET Laborum’  –  Through kindness and effort

Welcome to St. Joseph’s College,Summerhill, where we hope to provide you with a glimpse of life in our school. As you browse through this website, you will see the very many facets of this college as students go and grow from first to sixth year.You will learn of the achievements of past students whose very success is based on the tradition of teaching and pastoral care with careful emphasis on hard work, formation of character, independent thinking and Christian values.

We pride ourselves on our extensive range of academic subjects, sports and cultural activities, which allows pupils to develop their talents within a caring environment.

Above all, we want our pupils to be happy, confident and well balanced in a community where they will form friendships and learn to respect other people.

Summerhill is an all-girl’s Diocesan school under the trusteeship of Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin. The Board of Management takes responsibility for the running of the College.This Board consists of parents, teachers and representatives of the Trustees.

Our History

“Who’s carriage was the first to roll up the long, winding avenue leading to Summerhill, one-time seat of the landlord Gaynor family, we do not know. But we know that the tenant of Summerhill House in 1845, Mr. Edward Murphy was host to Daniel O’Connell when the later visited Athlone for the Repeal Demonstration held on Sunday 18th June of that year and that from the platform erected under “O’Connell’s Tree” – a giant beech to the left of the avenue as one approaches the building the Liberator held as estimated 200,000 people spell-bound by the brilliance of his wit and oratory on that broiling Summer’s day”.

On the 30th July, 1831, the much-loved Administrator of the Parish of SS. Peter and Paul, Athlone, Rev. George Joseph Plunkett Browne, was appointed Bishop of Galway. He invited the Ursuline Sisters to establish a boarding school for girls in Galway. This they did in 1839. But in March, 1844, Bishop Browne became Bishop of Elphin. Before leaving Galway, he persuaded the Sisters to follow him to his new diocese. He invited the Ursuline Sisters to establish a boarding school here.

To Summerhill the Ursuline Sisters came in the depth of Winter in 1844, a few days before Christmas. Midnight Mass was the first Mass to be offered at the new “Bethlehem” and by remarkable coincidence it was offered in a room which had formally been a stable.

The grounds and original buildings were left by the Gaynor Family to the Bishop for an orphanage for girls.

In 1846, a day school was established. Further building had to be carried out to the right of the house; a beautiful shrine of Our Lady was constructed which is now known as “Our Lady’s Grotto”.

In 1849 the Ursulines left Summerhill and went back to Sligo.

In 1856 Bishop Laurence Gillooly was appointed Bishop of Elphin. In 1857 a certain William Potts leased 35 acres of land to the Bishop for the life-time of Prince Arthur and Princess Louise (Queens Victoria’s children) to build a Diocesan College. Bishop Gillooly could not build the college on such a flimsy lease; he could not buy the land

Because Catholics were forbidden by the penal laws to buy land. So on Mr. Potts death, Bishop Gillooly persuaded his son to take back their title to 4 acres of the land and release it to them for life. It was on this that old Summerhill was built. It opened its doors to students, lay and clerical in 1857. In that same year, the firm of P & H Lyster were given the contract of building the chapel and the Professors rooms over it.

In 1871 they were given the contract of building the extension south of the chapel.

Bishop Gillooly, having made Sligo his diocesan capital, brought the Seminary to Sligo. So the residential students and professors from old Summerhill transferred to the new Summerhill College in Sligo.

On 1st December 1880, Bishop Gillooly invited the de La Salle Brothers to establish a certified Industrial School in the vacant college. Due to lack of finance for the building and purchase of materials required, this venture was short lived and the Brothers left Athlone for another diocese.

In January 1882, a colony of six Sisters from Sligo Mercy Convent arrived at Summerhill to run the orphanage.

In 1957 second-level education was made available to all by the opening of the Secondary Top – a school in which the students followed the programme for secondary schools but under the auspices of the Primary Education branch. This operated very successfully from 1957 – 1965. In that year, Summerhill experienced its final revolution to date.

The combined boarding and day school, Scoil Pheadair, established by the Sisters of Mercy in Athlone in 1925 was severely hampered by lack of space – so it was decided to transfer the boarding school to Summerhill and operate Scoil Pheadair as a day school.  A new modern primary school was built on the Drum Road, and the primary students transferred thereafter.  The school was then entrusted to Messrs. O’Gorman & Sons for reconstruction in 1965 to be followed by further works in 1968.

Past Principals

1965                Sr Loretto Curran

1970                Sr Mercy Watson

1971                Sr Stephanie Breslin

1973                Sr Patricius Quine

1988                Mrs. Olive Dwyer

1994                Sr Patsy Duffy

2004                Mrs. Mary Fahy

2009-present  Mr. Liam Nally