2 Parish Schools To Close This Year; Enrollment Down It Came As No Surprise At St. Michael In N. Phila. And Our Lady Of Loreto In S.w. Phila. The News Saddened Many.

Posted: January 11, 2000

The news came as no real surprise, but teachers and students were left saddened just the same yesterday by the announcement by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that two parish schools, St. Michael in North Philadelphia and Our Lady of Loreto in Southwest Philadelphia, will close at the end of the school year.

Empty seats are the reason.

Enrollment at St. Michael's this year is at 122, though the school could accommodate 230, while at Our Lady of Loreto, 145 students attend classes, with 115 empty desks, the archdiocese says. Kindergarten at both elementary schools was eliminated this year for lack of sign-ups.

"I am keenly aware that changing demographics within our city and in our suburbs are challenging us to collaborate in new and different ways and to restructure some of our parish communities," Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua said in a statement.

In addition to the school closings, Our Lady of Loreto and St. Mary of Czestochowa Parishes will merge into St. Barnabas Parish in Southwest Philadelphia. However, the parish sanctuaries will remain open as "worship sites."

St. Barnabas, at 64th Street and Buist Avenue, is the likely alternative Catholic school for Our Lady of Loreto students, while students at St. Michael are being urged to consider enrolling at six nearby parish schools.

Rumors that the schools were on a short list to be closed spurred big drops in enrollment this year, school officials said.

At St. Michael, the students are a mix of Hispanic (42 percent), white (34 percent), and African American (24 percent). One part of the school in the 1400 block of North Second Street is about 150 years old, and another part is more than 100 years old.

Our Lady of Loreto, at 62d Street and Grays Avenue, also draws a mix of students, though the school historically attracted children from Italian American families.

Eileen McCafferty, a teacher at Our Lady of Loreto, said she had just 10 students in her second-grade class - a far cry from her biggest, the year in the mid-1970s when her room was packed with 66 students.

"I went to school here; I've taught here for 28 years. It's going to be extremely emotional, just the finality of it," said McCafferty, who hopes to find work in the fall as a teacher, probably in a Catholic school.

Gina Kline, an eighth grader at Our Lady of Loreto, was moved to tears in talking about her school. "It's sad watching it close. The teachers, the students, they're so nice," Gina said.

Lenny Cavalieri, also an eighth grader, had seen his parents pour time and effort into keeping the school open. "I'm angry. I think this could have been prevented," said Lenny, whose views were shared by his father, Larry Cavalieri, who described his family as "devastated" by the announcement.

Larry Cavalieri said parishioners in the working-class neighborhood had worked hard over the last several years to keep both the school and the parish open.

"I don't think they gave us enough time. They claim it's the numbers, but I feel they're treating it like a business. Why can't the archdiocese subsidize the parish for a time? We can't all move to the suburbs," Cavalieri said.

"I know it's going on all over the place, but it's no consolation - it still hurts," he added.

The closings continue a decade-long decline in Catholic grade-school enrollment in the city. And church officials predict, based on a count of babies being baptized, that the trend is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

Funerals "far exceed" baptisms in the three Southwest Philadelphia parishes, the archdiocese noted yesterday.

Across the region (Philadelphia and the four suburban counties making up the archdiocese), 83,000 children attend elementary schools, which typically cover kindergarten through the eighth grade. Just under 38,000 of those youngsters are in city parish schools.

Just a few years ago, city students counted for half of the total archdiocese enrollment.

Last year, four city parish schools and one in the suburbs were shuttered, even as the fates of St. Michael and Lady of Loreto were before planning committees.

The committees were created after protests in 1993 over the closing of nine parishes and five schools in North Philadelphia and the consolidation of six parishes in Chester.

The Rev. Vito Carbone, pastor of Our Lady of Loreto, said the closings were inevitable, given the decline in numbers.

"I feel it's going to happen more and more," Father Carbone said.

"The one thing I've learned is that when the ground is unstable under you, you don't hold on to turf so tenaciously. You have to be willing to recognize that the ground is unstable and changes are necessary," he said.

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