Can We Avoid Catholic School Closings?

“Train the young in the way they should go; even when old they will not swerve from it.” — Proverbs 22:6 

Much has been written on the pages of this newspaper, as well as on its companion website, about the worth of a Catholic school education: how it instills Christian values, nurtures a love of Jesus Christ, and provides a firm academic foundation necessary for students to excel in their future endeavors. 

It has been statistically shown that, by academic performance metrics, a faith-based Catholic education is preferable to a secular one. That may be why some parents opt — in fact, insist — on enrolling their children in Catholic schools, academies, and high schools, often at significant financial cost. 

But sometimes, that cost can become more than a family, no matter how well-intentioned, can realistically bear; in those cases, providing a Catholic school education for their children becomes a choice they can’t afford to make. 

That situation became all too real in the Diocese of Brooklyn these past weeks, when the “difficult decisions” to close three academies were announced. 

St. Matthias in Ridgewood, Salve Regina in East New York, and St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Thérèse of Lisieux in East Flatbush will close for good at the end of the current school year. 

The decisions were made, the diocese’s superintendent’s office explained, “based on unsustainable trends in enrollment and finances over the last five years.” 

In different words, the numbers of students enrolling at the three schools have been persistently dropping, while the costs of upkeep have been consistently rising. 

In the cases of Salve Regina and St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the diocese stepped in to provide monetary assistance to the financially ailing schools to keep them afloat, but such help had become “unsustainable,” the superintendent’s office explained in a detailed letter to parents. 

In fact, some families launched a fundraising campaign in a last-ditch effort to raise enough money to keep the doors of the school their children loved open. But the effort was too little, too late to reverse the effects of years of the loss of tuition income needed for the neighborhood Catholic academies to stay financially solvent. 

Parental and student reactions ranged from heartbreak at the realization that a beloved school, classmates, and teachers will no longer be in their lives, to desperation over what the educational future holds, a future that will begin in less than three months. 

For students in Salve Regina, that future could be problematic; the closing of the school in effect creates something of a Catholic academy desert in East New York, with the nearest comparable academies located in distant neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant. 

The lesson to be learned from the closings of these Catholic academies might be that perhaps potential financial troubles could be identified earlier, before shutdown becomes the only option. 

When parents see that enrollment is dropping at their child’s school, they should work together with other parents and the school to figure out ways to raise funds and increase enrollment. 

As numerous parishes have been forced to merge churches as attendance dwindles, schools that are hemorrhaging enrollments should, if possible, be merged with nearby academies, to pool funding, alleviate the emotional stress of school closings and importantly, maintain some availability of Catholic education that many parents still very much want for their children.