Archdiocese will close seven elementaries

Posted: March 01, 2011

The Philadelphia Archdiocese announced Monday that seven small parish elementary schools - four in Philadelphia and three in Bucks County - will close at the end of this school year.

The announcement continues a longtime trend of declining numbers in the area's Catholic schools, reflecting the shrinking of church membership.

Parish elementary school enrollment in the archdiocese has fallen 18 percent during the last five years; high school enrollment has dropped 20 percent.

Last year, 11 schools were closed, including two city high schools, Cardinal Dougherty and North Catholic. Two regional elementary schools opened, as did a high school. This school year, there are 167 elementary schools in the archdiocese, with a total enrollment of 51,285.

The parish schools to close in Philadelphia are Ascension of Our Lord School and St. Anne School, both in Kensington; St. Cyprian School in Cobbs Creek; and St. Hugh of Cluny School in Fairhill.

Those in Bucks County are Our Lady of Fatima School in Bensalem; St. Martin of Tours School in New Hope; and St. Thomas Aquinas School in Croydon.

Remaining pupils will transfer to nearby parish schools, Mary Rochford, the archdiocese's superintendent of schools, said in a statement.

Anticipated enrollment for the 2011-12 school year ranges from 99 at St. Hugh of Cluny to 151 at St. Anne, according to the archdiocese. A total of 990 children now attend the schools; none has more than 175 students.

"The reality is that these parishes can no longer sustain their schools with so few students," Rochford said. "We would rather provide affordable options to those families interested in Catholic education than levy a high tuition upon families simply to buoy a school with either sharply declining enrollments or the inability of the parish to meet . . . class-size expectations."

When the projected enrollment for 2011-12 is compared with five years ago, the numbers are down by between 30 and 56 percent in six of the schools.

At the seventh, St. Martin of Tours, the drop was 12 percent. The church's pastor, the Rev. Frederick Kindon, told parents in a Feb. 4 letter that 150 pupils were needed to keep the school open, but that only 126 had committed. He recommended that the school be closed.

The Office of Catholic Education supported that evaluation. St. Martin, which opened in 2001, "is not viable long-term without jeopardizing the financial stability of the parish," it said.

Some St. Martin parents had sought to keep the school open, saying they had raised tens of thousands of dollars for a scholarship fund and secured a pledge of $150,000 to defray any possible shortfalls in tuition revenues next school year.

Joseph J. McCann of Doylestown, who has two daughters at the school, said Monday that he was sad about the news. "I'm disappointed that when there was clearly a large group of parents who were putting their money where their mouth is, they still said no. I don't get it."

He said a parent group formed in November to increase support and enrollment. Tuition this year at the school is $3,100 per child, plus fees, and it would have been about $6,000 next year, McCann said.

Others at the church said the decision was the right one. In a letter to the Office of Catholic Education signed by four St. Martin Parish Pastoral Council members, Nancy Waters wrote that it has been clear for several years "that our School viability has been a serious issue, both in terms of educational and financial solvency."

Kenneth A. Gavin, an archdiocese spokesman, said that closing a school is always a difficult decision; the schools, he said, are "part of the fabric of the parish community. But the quality of the children's education has to come first, and when you have eight kids in an eighth-grade class, as you do at St. Martin, for example, it becomes impossible."


Contact staff writer Dan Hardy

at 215-854-2612 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

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