Weeks after rumors circulated about two local Catholic schools closing, one will remain open while the other’s supporters have their sights set on the same.
Last week, parents at two local Catholic schools feared the bases of their children’s education would shut their doors for good in June, but both — Holy Spirit and Stella Maris — have refused to go down without a fight from their supporters.
Now, one group is rejoicing after its school is officially off the chopping block, while parents and community members of the other are organizing a grass-roots effort so their educational institution will have the same fate.
Holy Spirit, 1845 Hartranft St., and Stella Maris, 814 Bigler St., had considered closing their respective schools after the 2009-10 school year due to rising costs and declining enrollment. Holy Spirit has 197 students, while Stella Maris has 182 with 27 set to graduate at each in June, according to an Archdiocese of Philadelphia spokesperson. The churches associated with the schools will not be affected.
Financial difficulties for some parishes began years ago and happened more rapidly for others, the spokesperson said. Regardless, rising prices for materials, as well as increased salaries over the years, compounded by the decreased enrollment, ultimately forced costs to be shared by fewer families, the spokesperson said. Pushing off closure for a year could result in a tuition increase, in addition to developing ways to increase enrollment, the spokesperson added.
Stella Maris already had made its recommendation to the Archdiocese by Feb. 12 — which was to close the facility — while Holy Spirit was weighing its options at the time of a meeting with parents Feb. 18, which was the second time the Rev. John Calabro had met with parents on the topic. The latter session left many in attendance in turmoil, including parent Marie Breslin.
“I’m actually sick to my stomach,” the resident of 20th and Hartranft streets said after last Thursday’s gathering where about 100 parents discussed the possibility of closure. “I’ve never felt this way.”
Breslin’s 12-year-old son, John, has attended the Packer Park school since pre-kindergarten. He’s a seventh-grader now and would graduate next year, but for a short time, it looked like it might not be from Holy Spirit. Luckily for Breslin and his classmates, the school has steered itself in the opposite direction and Calabro announced at Sunday Mass there would definitely be no closure.
“I think someone came through with a monetary pledge to them, so [Calabro] spoke to the vicar and he rescinded his position,” parent Maria Capetola, of 20th Street and Pattison Avenue, said. “[Calabro] thinks the school is going to be viable for years to come.”
The news was welcomed by Capetola and her children, fourth-grader Juliet, 9, and second-graders Enrico and Philip, 7.
“My daughter put it on her Facebook — ‘I’m so happy my school is staying open’ — and kids put signs in their house windows,” she said. “They’re relieved their school isn’t closing.”
Eleven local Catholic schools met with the Archdiocese in July 2008 after it was apparent enrollment was declining and costs were spiraling upward. Almost a year later, the schools agreed to conduct a feasibility study that began in September, according to a letter to parents from Stella Maris’ Rev. Peter J. DiMaria.
Stella Maris’ committee members, which examined the feasibility study, concluded it was “no longer in the financial position to operate an independent parish school” and looked into becoming a regional school. However, only Holy Spirit shared the same vision, DiMaria said in the letter dated Feb. 12.
“All other parishes remained steadfast in their decision to continue to operate independent schools, even in the face of the overwhelming evidence that such a decision would bankrupt all parishes within three years,” the letter stated.
A regionwide institution was not an option with only the two schools since enrollment was low at both; another school was needed to make it work. Consequently, a recommendation was made to the Archdiocese to close Stella Maris at the end of the academic year.
The needed documents for the school’s closure are ready for Cardinal Justin Rigali, who will review the data from the feasibility study that examined Catholic identity, education programs, personnel, class size, enrollment, facilities, demographics and finances before rendering a decision at a yet-to-be determined date, according to the Archdiocese spokesperson.
Current students can attend St. Monica’s, 1720 Ritner St., or Epiphany of Our Lord, 1248 Jackson St., DiMaria wrote in the letter sent home with students about two weeks ago.
“Stella Maris would then help subsidize the education of our children at either of these parishes and you would not have to pay out of parish tuition just so long as you are an active and sustaining member of Stella Maris,” DiMaria said, adding if the Archdiocese accepts the recommendation, a meeting would be held in March to answer parent and student questions.
However, when the letter made its way to parents, it was the first time many if not all were hearing of the potential closing.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia officially announced Friday that Stella Maris School, 814 Bigler St., would close at the end of the school year due to low enrollment.
“I’m sad. I cried,” Stella Maris seventh-grader Jason Burris, of Sixth and Johnston streets, said following last Thursday’s dismissal. Burris, 13, and his classmates were slated to graduate from Stella Maris next year. Instead, that final year has come early as they scurry to find a new school.
To the Editor: I am a longtime parishioner of Stella Maris, as well as an alumni of the school. I am angry and heartbroken at the closing of our school, however, today I have reached my limit.
A sign displaying “Thanks for the Memories” adorned the school yard at 814 Bigler St., as gold and blue balloons seemed to sway in time with the children’s voices as they sang the school song.
“As emotional as everything is, you need to avoid coming at it from an emotional stance,” Patricia Cody said after Friday’s dismissal of 293 pupils from Epiphany of Our Lord, 1248 Jackson St.
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