At Least 2 More Catholic Schools to Close in June

By Anand Vaishnav and Karla Kingsley
Globe Correspondent
Fabruary 1, 2003

At least two elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Boston will shut their doors in June -- a 149-year-old school in Roxbury and the last remaining Catholic school in Charlestown, parents and school officials said yesterday.

On the last day of Catholic Schools Week, St. Joseph's School in Roxbury and Charlestown Catholic Elementary School announced to families yesterday that the schools would not reopen in September because of financial problems and enrollment declines. The news angered and upset parents, many of whom wondered where their children would attend school next, and some blamed the archdiocese for the sudden notice.

Even yesterday morning at Charlestown Catholic, as students stood and reflected on their Catholic education during Mass, the priests sat in silence, one parent said. Parents at both schools received letters yesterday announcing the closings.

"We're devastated. I am still in shock," said Kathleen Reid, the mother of a fourth- and eighth-grader at Charlestown Catholic, a K-8 school with about 130 students that serves three parishes in Charlestown. "There were rumors, but no input from the parents. They should have had meetings, something."

Judy Evers, whose grandson is a Charlestown Catholic third-grader, started a flier campaign this week, urging parents and community members to "save our school" by calling bishops and the schools to have their questions answered candidly.

"We haven't been able to get that," Evers said.

News of the closings comes two days after it was announced that 85-year-old Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School in Dorchester will shut in June.

Bishop Richard G. Lennon had warned earlier this week of more closings to be made public in the coming days. Many schools with shrinking enrollment rely on subsidies from the archdiocese to supplement whatever income they glean from tuition. But in some cases, the number of students dwindled to the degree that operating and staffing the school became too expensive.

"We're committed to Catholic education," Lennon said in an interview earlier this week. "It's at a point [where] we cannot afford to run underused schools.

"We need to maximize the educational effort so that we have, for example, a full classroom, and not just eight children in the class, but 18 or 17. We just cannot afford to run schools in that first scenario."

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey declined yesterday to name other schools slated to be closed and said church officials will wait until tomorrow to comment because they want to notify parishes first. The archdiocese has about 55,000 students in 177 schools, she said. "We recognize it's a painful time when they receive news such as this," Morrissey said.

At St. Joseph's in Roxbury, a committee formed in October to raise money to help finance the K-6 school, which has 114 students. Despite efforts that included appearances at the citywide Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast and contacts with charitable foundations, the committee raised just $1,000 of its $200,000 goal, according to letters sent home.

"It was clear to me and them that we did not have the financial ability to continue for another year," wrote the Rev. Walter J. Waldron, pastor of St. Patrick's parish, which encompasses St. Joseph's and St. Patrick's schools.

"I made the decision we had to close and all agreed that the facts led to this inevitable conclusion."

Waldron added: "Your love for our school has been an inspiration; your heartbreak is shared by me and all the faculty; your understanding of `why' is shared comfort."

St. Joseph's parent Mareese Wideman said he is confident his son can get into St. Patrick's School. But he said he feels the archdiocese is turning its back on small schools that serve urban youth. "I'm kind of upset," Wideman said. "The archdiocese is trying to run from their responsibility to the community."

The letter to St. Joseph's parents notified them of a Feb. 12 meeting to discuss options for their children, while a similar meeting was scheduled for Tuesday for Charlestown Catholic families.

Parents, however, said they remain distraught.

"We've lost the heart," said Geraldine Murphy, mother of a third-grader at Charlestown Catholic. "The heart is gone in the parish."

Michael Paulson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/1/2003.

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