When a Catholic School Closes, What Happens to All That Is Left Inside?

Father Martin Curtin, pastor of St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish, says he has not yet decided if statues such as this one at Salve Regina Catholic Academy will stay at the parish or be given to the diocese’s Office of Patrimony. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

WINDSOR TERRACE — The closing of a Catholic school marks the end of an era for generations of students and teachers, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of everything.

For example, all of the items inside a school building — everything from the desks and chairs in classrooms to statues of saints gracing the hallways to student report cards stored away in file cabinets — have a life beyond the school itself.

While principals and the teachers of the soon-to-be-closed schools are busy packing up everything, they are careful not to throw anything out. 

That’s because the Diocese of Brooklyn has protocols in place to ensure that all items in a school are given a new home.

This year, those protocols will be focused on four schools closing their doors — St. Matthias Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, Salve Regina Catholic Academy in East New York, Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge, and St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese Lisieux Catholic Academy in Flatbush.

“The main thing here is that this entire process is one based on respect,” said Joseph Coen, the diocese’s archivist, who visited the schools to meet with principals and explain how the process works.

“The school, even though it’s closing, has a history and that history has to be respected,” he added.

That respect even extends to paperwork that is part of the everyday life of a school.

A statue gracing the window sill at Salve Regina Catholic Academy in East New York will find a new home after the academy closes. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

Paper records that in some cases date back many years — including student registration forms, tests results, attendance records, financial ledgers, principals’ letters, and other forms — are all cataloged, placed in labeled boxes provided by the diocese’s Office of Archives and then picked up by that office to be stored in the archives.

“We will go through everything, even flyers we sent out to advertise dance festivals, and we catalog it,” said Michelle Donato, principal of Salve Regina Catholic Academy.

Coen and his staff give the principals plenty of time to pack. “We make sure to let them know that we are not rushing them. When they’re ready, we’re ready. We know that this is a difficult, emotional time for them,” he said.

What happens to the religious objects in schools, such as statues, crucifixes, and religious artworks? Well, that depends.

The pastor of the church the school is affiliated with (many Catholic academies started off as parish schools) gets first dibs, so to speak. He can select any or all of the religious items in the school to bring back to his church.

If the pastor decides to pass, then the items are given to the diocese’s Office of Patrimony. Msgr. John Bracken, the office’s director, arranges for the items to be brought to a diocesan warehouse to be stored. 

No decisions have been made about the religious items in Salve Regina Catholic Academy, said Father Martin Curtin, OFM CAP, pastor of St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish, one of the parishes associated with the academy. 

“We are not thinking of that, just yet. The other pastors and myself are concentrating on the human element here. We are working with the teachers and students to do whatever we can to ease the transition they are facing,” Father Curtin explained.

The pastor of St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish said it’s too soon to tell where statues like this one greeting guests on a stair landing at Salve Regina Catholic Academy, will be moved to following the closure of the academy.

The secular objects, such as the desks, chairs, and file cabinets, will be offered to other Catholic schools in the diocese. 

The computers the students use in their classwork will go with the students to their new schools if the youngsters are transferring to other Catholic schools.

“We do that for a reason,” Donato said. “It’s a nice way of letting the students bring something from their old school to their new one. It eases the disruption a little bit and makes them feel better.”

The Office of Archives usually deals only with diocesan schools, Coen explained. The disposition of objects in schools sponsored by religious orders is up to those religious orders. 

One example of this is Visitation Academy, which is sponsored by the Sisters of the Visitation. Normally, the sisters would be in charge of deciding what goes where. However, the sisters have agreed to allow the diocese to handle things, Coen said.

All of the arrangements are made during a sad time for the four schools that will be closing.

Darlene Gonzalez-Morris, principal of St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese of Lisieux, is postponing cleaning out her office.  

“I will start clearing out the office but I am not clearing it out until after the children leave. I don’t want them to have to come to an empty room. I still want this to be their home to the very last day,” she said.

4 thoughts on “When a Catholic School Closes, What Happens to All That Is Left Inside?

  1. Sad day for St. Matthias Academy. Its last day was the same day of Sr. Marie Anna Moltz’s funeral. She was from St. Matthias and was principal there for several years. Sr. Marie Anna was 102 at the time of her death. What a gift she bears to God! A life well lived and a school 115 years in existence!
    Sr. Madeline Keller, SSND

  2. At times the school is rented out to a NYC public school for a sizeable amount of income. However how much income is allowed before the church loses its tax exempt status ?

  3. What do they do with items from churches that either close or are renovated? Specifically whatever happened the beautiful altar from St Jerome’s in Flatbush. Taken down in 1975?