We knew that it was coming, an inevitable journey that had to be made. However, there was nothing that could have been done to prepare us for this massive change…
I am part of the last group of Froebel students who had the pleasure of experiencing life in Sion Hill, the last group that still identify as ‘Froebel’ students as opposed to ‘Maynooth University’ students. We are the ‘old generation’, who still have fond memories of cups of tea in the Sean-Can and the lunch time rush to squash into Straney’s Newsagent. In fact, for me, those small little memories are the fondest I have of my four years in Froebel. There was an incredible sense of community that permeated through college life, a true embodiment of Froebelian and Dominican teachings. The familiar faces you saw every day were not just your lecturers, your caretakers or your colleagues. They were a second family, welcoming and understanding at all times. There was a genuine excitement that built up in me when I was away from college, a longing to return to that special place of fun and learning. For me, Froebel in Sion Hill was more than a college. It was an identity that I was fiercely proud of.
Truth be told, we were afraid. We were afraid that everything was going to change so much that in all this turmoil, we would lose that special, indescribable sense of being a part of Froebel. I do not think it is in our nature as human to embrace change with the enthusiasm we would like, especially when that change threatens to undermine everything we hold dear. So we reacted with resent and dismay. We had consciously decided that we hated Maynooth before we had even arrived. The lure of incredible facilities and diverse opportunities paled in comparison to what we believed we would lose our sense of community.
I remember arriving in Maynooth for my first lecture, having spent the term away on Erasmus, on a cold January morning, in a prefab on the outskirts of campus. To my dismay I was not greeted by the smiles and energy that I had left on that final day in Sion Hill. Instead, my peer group looked lost, hopelessly drowning in this massive sea of change. That was the reality of that time for us. Our Froebelian identity was in shatters, diluted and dispersed across the one hundred acres of Maynooth University Campus. The reassuring smile of Sr. Veronica was replaced with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. The cozy Seomra Caidreamh was replaced by the enormous food halls of Phoenix. Everything was bigger but we weren’t sure that meant it was better.
That was over two years ago now and a lot has changed for Froebel students over that time. We have formed our own Froebel Society to try to keep that communal spirit alive. We have secured a common room, affectionately called the ‘Froom’, where the year groups can try to mingle a bit. We have accepted that this is the new home of Froebel College and have actively tried to bring those little things that made Sion Hill such a special place to fruition here.
Do we miss Sion Hill? Absolutely. Do we miss the close sense of community in old Froebel? Absolutely. Was the move to Maynooth a bad thing? Absolutely not. Of course a lot has changed and of course I am going to be particularly critical as I know what we have lost in the move. However, I feel as though that knowledge is a burden. My inability to let go of old Froebel and embrace the new Froebel means I never really tried to integrate. I am certain that if you speak to a Froebel First Year or Second Year that they will have their own fond memories, not of Sion Hill, but of Maynooth University. We are the last generation of Froebel teachers that will be burdened by those amazing memories of what Sion Hill was like. My is hope that once the new Froebel building is opened, we will see an amalgamation of the strong community spirit seen in Sion Hill and the diverse energy of Maynooth University. All we need to do now is find a way of convincing Sr. Veronica McShane to come for tea and remind us of what we are missing.