THE only school in England run by Augustinian Friars is being handed over to a charitable trust this month because the small religious order cannot recruit staff.
Control of Austin Friars Catholic school, set up in Carlisle more than 50 years ago, is to be handed over to 10 lay volunteers and two friars.
It has fallen victim to diminishing numbers of teaching priests, a problem which has affected other religious orders.
Even Ampleforth college in north Yorkshire, with rising demand for places, has recruitment problems. A spokesman for the college, run by Benedictine monks, said: "Highly-trained priests and monks are increasingly difficult to find."
There are just 30 Augustinian friars in England and the Very Reverend Paul Graham, their leader in this country, joined the order after he left the school 35 years ago.
He said: "The order has spent 50 years building up the school but it has become less and less Catholic. We no longer have the human resources and there is not the same need to provide specific Catholic education here."
Austin Friars was originally a boys' boarding school and became a co-educational day school in the 1990s to increase intake.
But only 20 per cent of its 300 pupils are Catholic and with fees of pound;7,449 a year it cannot compete with the Newman school, a Catholic comprehensive with 630 pupils in north Cumbria. Since the 1990s, the Order of St Benedictine has been forced to close three of its seven schools in England. Douai school in Reading closed in July 1999 because there were not enough pupils.
Father Oliver Holt, a former housemaster, said: "Parents no longer feel the same compulsion to send their children to Catholic schools and we could not compete with larger comprehensives.
"Monks do not necessarily make suitable teachers any more and lay teachers cost more. The monastic community was losing money."
But the Jesuits, who run three secondary schools in England including the popular Wimbledon college, welcome the increased involvement of lay people.
Brother Alan Harrison, assistant for education, said: "These schools do not rely on an everlasting supply of priests or nuns. They can, and perhaps should, be run by lay people."
Gerald Grace, director of the centre for research and development in Catholic education at London's Institute of Education, said the orders had done great work in founding schools.
But he said: "As numbers decline they need to find a new role and that could be much more in the spirit of research and development activities, the development of lay head teachers and governors.
"Nuns and monks need not be headteachers, but if they totally disappeared from schools that would be a form of spiritual impoverishment."
BROTHERHOOD OF HARMONY
EDUCATION is central to the Order of Saint Augustine.
The brotherhood spread its message through universities in fifth-century Europe, helping to found the University of Mexico.
Today its 100 schools are the focus of its 3,000 friars and the order, named after a north African priest, is popular in Spanish-speaking countries and Latin America.
There remain only two prep schools in Ireland and 30 Augustinian friars in the UK.
The other principle of the order is community. The friars' first rule was taken from the Acts of the Apostles and reads: "Live together in harmony, being of one soul and one heart seeking God," a motto closely observed by their schools.
Members have included Martin Luther, before he founded Lutheranism in 16th-century Germany, and Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics.