The Franciscan Sisters built St. Mary of the Angels and Francis Special School on the farm of the late Denis and Mary Doyle of Whitefield, Beaufort, Co Kerry. The couple had only one child, a daughter by the name of Mary Rose Doyle. In 1964, Mary Rose decided to enter a convent and in that same year her parents Denis and Mary donated their entire farm to the Franciscan sisters. The nuns resided in the original farmhouse throughout their stay in Beaufort.
The initial intention of the Sisters was to set up a home for elderly and retired priests. After some reflection and on advice from the Bishop of Kerry, it was decided that there was a greater need for a residential facility for physically and intellectually challenged children. On October 1966, Bishop Moynihan laid the foundation stone for the building formally known as St. Mary of the Angels, now known as St. John of Gods Kerry Services, Beaufort. Later, with the support and generosity of the people of Kerry, a sixty bed residential facility was formally opened for children with multiple levels of disability. Initially, the nuns had to depend on voluntary donations from the generous people of Kerry for the upkeep of the building. For many years, this residential facility was the only one of its kind in the county.
From humble beginnings, the sisters continued to expand their residential and day care services. They provided for the educational needs of these children in the form of St. Francis Special School. This school was initially run from two refurbished outhouses situated at the back of the original farmhouse.
Through the years, the numbers of children in residential care began to increase. A new school was built on campus in 1986 to provide for the increasing number of pupils availing of the facility.
As St. Francis Special School is committed to incremental improvements there have been several alterations made to the building over the past number of years. It is equipped with a variety of specialised educational resources ensuring that each student has access to a broad range of curriculum experiences. “A high standard of teaching is evident across the school and excellent practice was observed in several classes.” Inspector’s Report (2013).
The Department of Education has provided a €780,000 grant for a school extension which contains four new classrooms with new toilet and changing facilities. This building was completed in August 2015 and opened in September 2015. These new facilities have radically transformed the school by providing suitable equipment and space needed for pupils with moderate to profound general learning needs.
Some of the former moderate and profound classrooms have now been converted into specialised physiotherapy, speech and language and occupational therapy facilities including a dedicated art room. The new extension costing €900,000 means that a multi-disciplinary team will have suitable facilities onsite. These resources all play a huge part in providing each pupil with an equal opportunity and a fair chance to accomplish his/her true potential. The cost of additional facilities is being fundraised mostly by the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycles in 2015 and 2016.
Due to declining number of Sisters St. Mary of the Angels was ultimately transferred to the St. John of God Brothers. The official transfer of St. Mary’s from the Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Motherhood to the order of St. John of God took place in 2005. In 2004/2005 the first group of nuns left St. Mary of the Angels for the Franciscan Convent in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. The last three nuns went to live in a new Community in Killarney, Co. Kerry in 2005. St. Francis Special School continues to operate under the auspices of St. John of God Kerry Services.