Two Catholic schools to close in Lowell

The Archdiocese of Boston announced Jan. 9 that due to rising costs and decreasing enrollment, two of the nine Catholic schools in Lowell will be closing. St. Stanislaus and Sacred Heart schools will shut their doors for good at the end of the current academic year.

The closure of two of the city’s schools is the result of over six months of discussion among the principals of the nine schools to determine how “to secure the future sustainability and viability of the Catholic schools in Lowell,” said a statement from the archdiocese.

According to the statement, their conclusion, which was recently presented to Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley and vicar general Bishop Richard G. Lennon, recommended that instead of the nine schools there be seven — five parochial elementary schools and two private elementary schools.

The five schools associated with parishes are located in different areas throughout Lowell. They are Immaculate Conception School, St. Jeanne d’ Arc School, St. Louis de France School, St. Margaret School and St. Michael School. In its statement, the archdiocese said that the parishes that the schools are currently associated with may change because of the reconfiguration process.

“The school configuration process is distinct from the parish configuration process although in the end the two processes will be integrated so that each of the five parish schools is associated with one of the newly configured parishes,” said the archdiocese in the statement.

Each of the five schools can accommodate at least two classes for each grade, which allows for “a seat for all of the present students and ... for some expansion in the future,” said the statement.

The two private schools that will also remain open are Franco American School, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, and St. Patrick School, which will be sponsored by the Boston Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. St. Patrick School primarily serves new immigrants to the United States.

Sister Joanne Sullivan, SND, principal of St. Patrick School, said that while the process of remedying the situation of having too many schools and too few students was “difficult,” it was expected.

“Anyone working in Catholic education today, especially in cities with multiple schools, would know there is always a question mark” as to the future status of each school, she said. “All of us in the city had experienced similar things with declining enrollment, with the economy change and we knew the reconfiguration process with the churches was beginning and that would impact us, so you’d have to know something [in the form of closings] was coming.”

According to Sister Joanne, the principals worked closely with the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Schools to reach their recommendation of closing two of the city’s schools. They looked at “different combinations and scenarios” to forecast what the impact of the closure of each individual school would be to determine which should close, she said.

“We spend time looking at all of our school realities from finance to our buildings to the population that we served,” she explained. “We looked at every aspect. It was not a one-side decision based solely on one thing.”

Sister Joanne described the decision making process and the discussions between the principals as “honest and difficult.”

“Each principal has invested a lot into making her school grow. We all love Catholic education and we all love our students, so for any one of us it was a very difficult process, but I have to say it was a very honest, open process,” she stated. “We worked very hard together.”

Immaculate Conception School will welcome the students currently enrolled at Sacred Heart School and St. Stanislaus School; however, the final decision on where the students will go to school rests with the parents, said Sister Joanne.

“We have felt that there is real potential in bringing the student populations of Sacred Heart and St. Stanislaus together with the Immaculate, and there is real potential for creating something viable and good there, but the parents have the ultimate choice,” she said. “We basically want to strengthen the Catholic school system in Lowell while providing for the needs of all children.”

Circumstances leading up to the need to reconfigure schools in Lowell were “rising costs, shifting demographics and changing economic factors,” said the archdiocese in its statement. Under enrollment at each of the nine schools also contributed greatly to the closures. According to the archdiocese, the schools currently enroll approximately 2,600, which is 200 less students than were educated five years ago.