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History of our Community


The Camillians in
 Co. Westmeath,

Sowing the Seed for a New Camillian Community

Creating community has always been a significant focus of Irish society. Even in pre-Christian times we know that people lived together for mutual help, protection and support. The Neolithic grave found by an old Mass-Path near our Community is a tangible testament to the fact that people have gathered in this area for well over 3000 years. Since Catholic Emancipation the local Community have been free to practice their faith and the Church once again became the heart of the local community.

1935 - The Camillians Come to Westmeath.

Into this long tradition of community living and support came, in 1935, the Order of Saint Camillus. A group called the Guilds of St Camillus, a forerunner of today’s Lay Camillian Family, helped the Order find a home in Westmeath. The Guilds helped raise the funds that allowed Fr. Terence O’Rourke buy Riverstown House. Fr. O’Rourke had joined the Camillians in France and was instrumental in setting up the new foundation. The house cost that early community the sum of £5,000.


The House and adjoining Flour Mill were built in the mid 19th century. Following a personal tragedy and the changes in Irish society the Catholic owners, the Hannan family, were keen to sell the estate and move to England.

Many local people were quick to help and soon the Camillian Community of eight religious was established and Riverstown House became universally known as The Monastery.

To put 1935 into an historical context, events that year included the March Dublin bus strike which required the army to provide transport! The must-see movie for Christmas 1935 was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Nylons were the new must-have fashion craze from America where Franklin Roosevelt was President.

Pius XI was Pope and Edward Byrne was Archbishop of Dublin. The actor Dudley Moore was born as was Elvis Presley, Woody Allen and Julie Andrews. In Germany, Hitler rejected the treaty of Versailles, limiting the size of Germany's weapons and so, although gathering, the storm clouds of the Second World War were still four years away.

The Sick Person - At the heart of Camillian Ministry

From the start, the sick were the heart of that pioneering group. The brothers would go into people’s homes to care for those who were ill or dying and the tradition of performing the last offices for those who had died continued up to a few years ago. A tradition which progressed into today’s practice by many local people who request to repose before the Altar in our chapel before their funeral. At the same time, the priests would visit people to bless them and to offer spiritual comfort. One man still very much remembered by the older generation is Father John Cleary, who was later to die in Australia. Even today his name remains a legend in the area.

Today, this work continues with members of the community frequently answering the call for a blessing in the local hospitals and in people’s homes. The deep sense of the spiritual in people’s lives is still evident and many people are drawn to the Monastery to seek spiritual comfort in times of personal and family difficulty.

Over the years, especially in the early days, the house and farm provided an amount of local employment, as the Nursing Centre does today.The summers saw many local people learning to swim and enjoy the cool water on hot days in the river swimming pool. Also worthy of mention are the football pitch, tennis court, hand-ball alley and all the other recreational facilities that were available to the local community. A snooker table in the house was also a source of entertainment for many.

It was a French brother, Etienne, who managed to harness the water from our river, a man-made canal cut from the River Deel, to provide water for the Mill. In the years before the Second World War he created a hydro-electric station. This produced enough electricity not only to light the Monastery but also the local Community Hall and all the houses in between! Etienne must have been somewhat of an Eco-Warrior before his time!

1953 - A New Camillian Minor Seminary

From the early days of the foundation the Community ran a school, a Minor Seminary, with the intention of fostering vocations to the Order, which it certainly did. The school moved to a purpose built building in 1953. Some of the pupils continued with their vocation and are with us today, providing an example of the school’s capacity to pass on the solid Christian values that were the underpinning of its ethos.

The school holidays were to play an important role in fostering another aspect of the work of the Camillian Community within the locality. Groups of disabled children from Dublin would take over the place. This provided their only prospect of a summer holiday. They were from the same school as the well known author Christy Brown, whom you might remember from the 1989 film My Left Foot.

During the summer months young refugees from Belfast came to us, escaping the tragedy of the troubles. Many local young people would volunteer to look after, entertain and generally give them a much-needed holiday away from very difficult situations. Around thirty mothers and children and teenagers would be looked after and entertained. Trips to the seaside were common place and many afternoons of football and games were held. At night the show-bands, like the Times, would come and entertain them.

During the day there was much hard work to be done and many of the children needed a lot of care. The young volunteers worked in shifts, starting at eight o’clock in the morning and often working through until bedtime. Members of the Community also worked hard to provide these unfortunate youngsters with a holiday.

1976 - The Work of the Community Changes and Expands

As health care in Ireland changed, state funded Public Health Nurses took over caring for people at home. This change, among others, together with the desire of the Second Vatican Council that Religious return to the original charism of their founders, was to bring about a major shift in the work of the Killucan Community. The School, with much sadness, closed in 1974 and the Nursing Centre opened its doors in 1976.

Bro. Christopher McCabe, from Glasgow, became the first Nursing Director and Fr. Frank Monks, from Dublin, the first Administrator. We opened with just sixteen beds; today we are proud to continue the tradition of care and healing. We now care for fifty seven people, as well as providing the in-patient services for the North Westmeath Home Care Hospice, caring for people of all ages. The Hospice Home Care Team is based at our facility and has been the source of a new direction for the Nursing Centre.

Among the many other activities which today take place in Killucan is the Monthly Healing Mass, at which around 200 people gather to pray in the Nursing Centre Chapel. A weekly Adoration Group meet on a Wednesday afternoon to pray for the intentions of the sick. The local A.A. group meet every Friday in the Monastery, the parish S.V.P. group use our facility to hold their meetings and the Centre even provides a home for the local I.C.A. group. The Fathers of the community regularly help in local parishes and we enjoy a very cordial relationship with our confreres in the Diocese of Meath, especially with our present Parish Priest, Fr. Richard Matthews.

None of these activities would have been possible, however, without the outstanding collaboration of our neighbours and the people of the wider community. People who work with us, support our fund-raising events, give to our country-wide donation boxes and most importantly of all, pray for the success of our ministry.

2010 - Seventy Fifth Anniversary

In July 2010, during the festivities for the Feast of St. Camillus the Community was delighted, as well as privileged, to welcome the Heart of St. Camillus. The complete, incorrupt, heart of our founder in its gilded 18th century religuary was brought to Killucan from Rome for four days of public veneration. Usually it is kept in the small room where the saint died in 1614. On only two previous occasions since then has it left Rome. Over 30,000 people came to venerate the saint and many more went to Dublin and to Our Lady's shrine at Knock. It was certainly one of the highlights of the seventy five year history of our Community. Again, it was only possible because of the wonderful help and cooperation of the local people. Pictures of this wonderful event can be seen at the Nursing Centre page of this Website.

2010 Onwards - Looking to the Future

Looking back on three quarters of a century of Camillian Ministry and Presence in County Westmeath, what strikes us? Reflecting on our history, one thing becomes evident. The fact that, along every step of the way, the Camillians and the wider community have been and continue to be intertwined in their desire to put Our Lord Jesus in the person of the sick and suffering at the very centre of their care, respect and attention. Who knows where the future will lead us in the next seventy five years, as we strive to continue the Lord's work for the sick and suffering in Westmeath.

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