As part of Cardinal Edward M. Egan’s efforts to control spending, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York in February announced the closing of John A. Coleman High School in Hurley, the first school the archdiocese had closed since 1994.
In March, the archdiocese announced cutbacks that would likely lead to the closing of six low-enrollment elementary schools in Manhattan and surrounding counties. Although an anonymous benefactor subsequently promised $150 million to save the schools from closure, the funds have yet to be received.
Catholic schools in Philadelphia are facing a double whammy: Catholics joining the flight of families from the city, and charter schools draining the remaining pool of non-Catholic students looking for an alternative to the public schools. Enrollment in the city’s Catholic elementary schools has dropped by 25,000 in the last 20 years, and at least 15 schools have closed or consolidated in the last 10, according to a recent review by Philadelphia Daily News writer Earni Young. Enrollment in the city’s diocesan high schools for the 2000-2001 school year fell by 2,700 students compared to the previous year.
According to Young, two parish schools were closed in 2000 but no closings are planned this year. However, roughly 27 of the remaining 89 parish schools have enrollments below 250, which makes them prime candidates for closure next year if further enrollment erosion occurs. Nearly half of the students in the city’s Catholic schools are non-Catholic, but these students are increasingly drawn to the city’s new charter schools, which free parents from the Catholic schools’ tuition bills.
Declining enrollments were cited as the reason for the March 5 closure announcement of three Roman Catholic elementary schools in Chicago, where enrollments had fallen below the viable level of 150 to 175 students. One of the schools, St. Simeon’s, had 1,987 students in 1967 and was the largest Catholic elementary school in North America, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. Earlier this year, four Chicago-area Catholic high schools announced they would close by the end of the school year.
Unable to attract a sufficient number of students, St. Thomas Aquinas High School in New Britain, Connecticut, closed its doors two years ago. In April, the city’s last remaining Catholic high school, Mary Immaculate Academy, announced it will close in June for the same reason, according to The Hartford Courant.
Many suburban Catholic schools face a different problem: Not enough seats. A recent Washington Post story told of a Catholic family with three children who found all of the parochial schools filled to capacity when they searched within a 40-minute drive of their home in Fairfax County, Virginia. Although eight new elementary schools have been built in the area since 1990, demand still outstrips supply.
While Catholic schools in Chicago struggle to keep their doors open, schools in the suburban region of the Archdiocese of Chicago are in the midst of expansion projects totaling more than $55 million, according to a Daily Herald report earlier this year. Although enrollment in the Archdiocese is down overall, enrollment in suburban Catholic schools has been rising steadily.
Schools must raise the expansion funds from their own parishioners: $7 million for classroom and gym additions at St. Hubert in Hoffman Estates, $5.2 million for room additions at St. Theresa in Palatine, and $5 million for classrooms and a cafeteria at St. Mary in Buffalo Grove.