Diocesan News

St. Matthias Catholic Academy to Close After 114 Years of Service

Fourth graders take part in a math lesson at St. Matthias Catholic Academy, which announced that it will be closing at the end of the school year. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

RIDGEWOOD — Keri-Ann Wade-Donohue, the principal of St. Matthias Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, was wearing a big smile as she greeted each student by name as they walked through the doors to start the school day on Wednesday, April 24.

From all appearances, it was a normal school day. Wade-Donohue was smiling and the children were cheerful. 

But beneath the surface, there was sorrow in the air. Only a few days earlier, the academy’s board of trustees informed parents in a letter that St. Matthias Catholic Academy will be closing its doors at the end of the school year in June.

Declining enrollment and mounting debt were cited as the main reasons for the decision to close the 114-year-old school.

In the letter to parents, Gregory J. Haufe, chairman of the board at St. Matthias, explained that enrollment has dropped precipitously over the past 10 years, from 400 students in 2014 to 154 now. 

In the summer of 2020 alone, the enrollment decreased by more than 60 students. The projected enrollment for this coming September is fewer than 130 children.

In addition to plummeting enrollment figures, St. Matthias is burdened by heavy debt, Haufe explained. Since 2020, the academy’s annual deficits have run as high as $300,000. 

While the academy has managed to stay afloat with help from benefactors who donated approximately $500,000 over the past five years, the financial situation was unsustainable, Haufe wrote.

“Sadly, monetary donations alone cannot make up losses from a small student population,” he added.

Wade-Donohue, who just started her job in September, said “demographics have changed drastically in the last 10 years. The area is drawing increasing numbers of young adults who are not married and do not have children. We’re becoming like Williamsburg in that way,” she explained. 

With fewer young families moving into Ridgewood, the pool of available students is shrinking, she added.

Parents of St. Matthias’ students have organized a last-ditch effort to try to save the academy from closing. They have formed a Home School Association, set up a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $1 million, and launched an effort to attract at least 50 new students to beef up the enrollment. 

As of April 30, the GoFundMe campaign raised $20,270. And since the campaign began to recruit new students, 16 children have been enrolled by their parents, Wade-Donohue said.

“There have been a lot of phone calls. It’s been nonstop with people requesting tours of the school and information packets, tuition assistance — all things that go along with registration,” she explained.

However, Wade-Donohue also said the goal of raising $1 million and enrolling 50 additional students has to be met quickly — by early May.

Parents dropping their children off at St. Matthias on Wednesday expressed shock at the impending closure.

Lauren Murtha, whose son Jimmy is a kindergarten student, graduated from St. Matthias, as did her father. “I lived here basically when I was a kid. I grew up in these halls. This was home to me,” she said, adding that she was devastated by the news of the closure. 

“My thought of having my children come here through eighth grade was a dream for me, and it was a gift in a way because I really wanted that to happen,” she added.

Francisca Pellot has two children in the school — seventh grader Giovanni and fifth grader Olivia. “It’s heartbreaking to hear that a family that’s been together for 114 years is set to close because of the declining enrollment,” she said. 


“I’ve never seen such a warm place to be. We scouted, my husband and I, community after community, school after school, and St. Matthias is where we felt at home. We’ve been here ever since.”

Pellot signed onto the 11th-hour effort by parents to save the school. “We are not giving up hope. Because we know as a Catholic institution, all things are possible and so we are not giving up on our faith,” she explained.

For Giovanni and Olivia, it was hard to hear the bad news about their school closing. “I was heartbroken,” Olivia said. 

As a seventh grader, Giovanni faces the prospect of having to transfer to another school for just one year for the eighth grade before moving on to high school. “I hope it stays open,” he said of St. Matthias.

The Diocese of Brooklyn issued a statement indicating that the decision by the board of trustees to shut St. Matthias was not made lightly. 

Despite the best efforts to prevent this closure, the student population continued to decrease, while the budget shortfalls increased. The decision to close one of our schools is made only after many avenues have been explored to try and keep the school doors open,” the statement read.

Superintendent Deacon Kevin McCormack’s office will assist families in finding seats in other Catholic schools, diocese officials said.

Meanwhile, Wade-Donohue said the academy is determined to ensure that the students are as comfortable as possible.

“My first reaction was no matter where we end up, no matter how the next few weeks play out, the students have to have a place where they feel safe and they should be happy. 

“So if this does mean that this is the end, then we’re going to go out with a bang. We’re going to make this the best experience they’ve ever had,” she said.