Keeping the faith

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.

By Amanda L. Snyder
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 20 | Posted Feb. 25, 2010

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Parents and students were shocked and saddened by news Stella Maris may be shutting its doors for good in June. The school has been recommended for closure according to a letter sent home to parents Feb. 12.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

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.

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Comments 1 - 20 of 20
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1. Lisa S. said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:06AM

“I am sorry to hear about Stella Maris School closing..Its a shame for the students, faculty and parishioners that are dedicated to School and Church. Catholic Education plays an important role in all our lives.Holy Spirit School is accepting registration also, and it offers a High quality education in a Safe environment !!”

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2. rocky said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 12:28PM

“This really is sad. I Been a member of stella maris for 53 years. and this hurts to see this school be closed.Why not sell the building with three nuns in it and make it a apartment complex for extra revenue,”

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3. Maris Stella said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 02:28PM

“Father DiMaria has lost the confidence of his parishioners, the attendance at all Sunday masses is way sound since he took over, to all Stella Marions, stage a coup d'état and petition the Arch-Diocese to restore Monsignor Connelly!!”

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4. JM said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 02:45PM

“Unfortunately this is the sign of the times, churches cannot afford to operate independent parish schools with enrollments of 187 students.”

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5. A long time parishioner said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 09:54PM

“Bottom line, Father DiMaria needs to go. He is one of the reasons that Stella Maris has lost kids the past year alone. He has made it wuite clear that he does not care about the school and only about the almighty dollar with his tithing requests at Church. Has anyone seen the rectory lately with its marble, granite and cherry wood. Nice work. So much for the vowel of proverty. He has done nothing to motivate the parishioners nor has given us the opportunity to try and help to save the school. Whereas, other schools were given hope and encouragement from their Priests to fight and we have gotten nothing but a letter on 2/12/10. Nothing at all said at Mass. Who in their right mind would stay as a member of the parish after closing the school. Common sense says that all parents will become part of the parish in which their child will go to school. I would rather pay the out of parish rate than to give him another dime.”

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6. Another long time parishioner said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 08:24AM

“Let's see, spend $85,000 on an organ or keep the grade school open to provide a quality catholic education? I have an idea, lets transfer half of Father DiMaria's food budget to the school budget, that would be more than enough to keep the school open.”

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7. Cherise Lynn said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 12:18PM

“God is made visible first hand to our children through catholic school. We won't go down without a fight, and plenty of prayers to Our Lord to save catholic schools for our children. If all else fails, I surely hope we will have at least one catholic school remaining in South Philadelphia.”

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8. Joanne said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 08:02AM

“I understand why everyone is upset, but the most important thing is that your childrens' catholic educations continue. In New Jersey, they combine local catholic grade schools and make them regional schools so suck it up and get on with it.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 08:18AM

“"Holy Spirit" and "high quality education" should NEVER be in the same sentence.”

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10. Gloria Endres said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 09:05AM

“None of this should be a surprise. All the parishes in South Philly are struggling to keep enrollment up. The more families enrolled, obviously, the lower the financial burden. One of the reasons enrollment is dropping is the attraction of free charter schools, which resemble private schools but aren't. Joanne is right. Eventually, you have to consider merging underenrolled schools. Times change.”

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11. BARBARA CAPITANIO RUSSO said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 04:11PM

“Priests of the diocese of Philadelphia do not take a vow of poverty, only order priests take that vow. The days of every parish having it's own school are over. Thank God, Monsignor Mc laughlin is not here to see this.”

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12. Holy Spirit grad said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 05:39PM

“Its a shame that Holy Spirit is suffering money problems when its in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in South Philadelphia. People in the neighborhood are complaining but they don't want to contribute any money. It's a great school, but instead of increasing their debt every year, they should just close it.”

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13. DD said... on Mar 4, 2010 at 11:11AM

“I guess what I don't understand is why several schools remain open at less than 50 percent capacity. Since parishes have to subsidize schools with collections, because tuition alone doesn't cover the costs of operating a school, why don't schools combine their resources? Would seem that a school at less than 50 percent capacity would be a financial liability. Once you put emotions aside, you'll realize it is a matter of time before these smaller schools with less facilities close and students are absorbed by the larger schools. Seriously, how confident would you be that your child would complete 9 years in one of these schools in question if you enrolled them in kindergarten today? Also, how many students in Catholic schools even come in contact with a priest or sister daily? Today the differences between a Catholic school and a Charter/public schools are not as visible as they used to be, because that highly visible prescence of sisters is gone.Are you still getting a "catholic" ed?”

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14. Fred said... on Mar 5, 2010 at 05:25PM

“I glad to read the sensible comments listed above. With the exception of those who attack the pastor of Stella Maris, the other writers are reading the writing on the wall. Fr. D'maria tried to fight hard for a regional school and for it to be at Stella Maris but no other parish would agree. Fr. D'maria told his parishioners that if the parishes in South Philly don't consolidate their schools all parishes will be bankrupt in three years. Instead of blaming this priest for what has happened, I don't see any of the parents at SM step up to the plate to help. They all just like to complain.”

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15. SadGrad said... on Mar 14, 2010 at 12:04AM

“RIP Msgr. Edward McLaughlin
RIP Joe D'Amato
RIP Frank Quimby
RIP Stella Maris Carnival
RIP Stella Maris May Procession

Star of the Sea... Long may you shine....”

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16. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2010 at 02:40PM

“I came across an old bulletin while cleaning today. Some of the parents claim the first they heard anything about the school possible closing/closing was Feb. 12. When infact back in October Fr. DiMaria wrote a letter in the bulletin about the school study being done. He told of the income to the school and what it cost to operate the school. He stated "The fact is that the parish cannot continue to subsidize the school at this rate." So tell me what did you think was going to happen?”

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17. Anonymous said... on Jun 1, 2010 at 06:01PM

“First of all I am a long time parishoner who goes to mass every day. I am also a member of 11 catholic organizations so I take my catholic faith VERY VERY seriously. I think that attacking a priest who had done his best to get people to go to church (his homilies are very sound and courageous, unlike the former priest who seemed to always say what the parishoners wanted to hear on how "good the parishoners of stella maris are" If I go to mass and I take the faith seriously, I want to hear what would help me save my soul. Some one who would have the courage to say, this is wrong and that I would go to hell if I dont change." One of the things that I like about this priest is- he established a perpetual adoration. That is something that would give more glory to GOD. FOr years under that past pastor who had been there for what 20 or more so years , he never did that. What's worse we only have adoration only during 1st fridays and not even that if there is a FUNERAL!”

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18. Anonymous said... on Jun 1, 2010 at 06:58PM

““All of you who attack a priest who established perpetual adoration do not love the church nor Jesus. I know not all of you go to church every friday. Because no one who does can attack a priest. The parish rely soley on the parishoners to survive. From the tone of blame and hatred from all of you attackers you are no supporters of the church. I do the tithing and I am grateful I can give back to God from what HE had given me. I have my life, my health, my Job, family etc. But I am not surprise. Servants of GOd must suffer with Jesus and the Church while others and some of so called catholics persecute the church as they did Christ. They say they are catholics. But True Catholics loves and supports the church. Because these people are good, humble, and exihibits kindness to priests. The others are like the Pharisees, hypocrites because they said they are catholics but they attack servant of GOD. Fr. DiMaria you are also always on fire with your homiles. Something I always look forward to when I go every sunday.You help people think of their souls & are not afraid to say what should be said about what needed to change &what is not good. Msgr. Connelly, as much as I respect him was very focused on maintaining the church &school which is ironic.Because in sucessfully doing so, he never really paid any thought of a perpetual adoration. We only had it every 1st friday except there is a funeral then we never had it all.The desire to have an organ to accompany the voices that will be raised up to GOd with the heavenly host &angels is understandable.If we must give praises to GOD we must offer the best. You do not offer up garbage to the almighty GOD.The mass attendance is also more now compared with msgr It must be hard to be a priest.1 of these 2 good priests did focuse on giving to GOD with perpetual adoration, tithing, organ etc.the one who is now being persecuted like christ!”

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19. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2012 at 01:50AM

“There opening it back up and now are combining 5 schooly including holy spirit with the enrolemt of 82 students Epiphany of our Lord, Holy Spirit, St. Richard, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Sacred Heart merge at the former Stella Maris site.

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20. Anonymous said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 12:11PM

“Shame! Shame! Shame the way you Italians talk about a Priest. You should go to Confessions.”


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