Catholic schools in archdiocese begin new year

LYNN -- Sacred Heart School was one of many Catholic schools beginning a new academic year in the first week of September.

On Sept. 7, the students, preschool through grade five, and their parents and teachers gathered outside the school for the first day of the 2022-2023 school year.

State senator Brendan Crighton and his wife Andrea were there to drop off their children. Their son, who is in second grade, helped his younger sister get ready for her first day at Sacred Heart School.

Both parents praised the school for its community and the experience it provides for the students.

"My little one is very excited to start school today," Andrea Crighton told The Pilot.

Brendan Crighton said they "couldn't be happier."

Dr. John F. Dolan, head of Sacred Heart School and St. Mary's High School, noted that Sacred Heart is fully staffed despite the teacher shortage that schools across the archdiocese, and the country as a whole, are facing at this time.

He said that when he and Principal Kristina Relihan came to Sacred Heart in 2018, enrollment was down to 160 students. Because the classes for grades six, seven, and eight were so small, with only eight or nine students each, those grades were moved to the St. Mary's campus on Tremont Street. Now, Sacred Heart is starting the year with over 240 students.

"Part of it is the school culture. People just want to be here," Dr. Dolan said.

Father Brian L. Flynn, the pastor of St. Mary of the Sacred Heart Parish, led a prayer service in the schoolyard before the teachers led students inside for their first day of the year.

Speaking to The Pilot later, Dr. Dolan praised Father Flynn for being so present in the school community, despite the fact that the school is not a parish school.

"We really have no official connection to the parish, but you wouldn't know it by Father Brian's presence," Dr. Dolan said.

He called the presence of the parish priests "the connective tissue."

"This all works because parents really believe the priest is involved in the school ... he doesn't have to be, but he wants to be, and not only does he do it, he does it with great energy, great engagement, great connection, which is huge," he said.

Principal Relihan said it was "a really great feeling" to see the students' families and witness everyone's interactions as the day began.

"That was a very moving moment for our community," she told The Pilot.

She said they are "excited to see what the year holds," from their preschool to grade five scholars.

"We're extremely excited for a brand-new year of learning and growing in our school," she said.

Archdiocesan superintendent Thomas Carroll visited multiple schools opening in the first week of September. Speaking to The Pilot on Sept. 6, he said the big change he has noticed is fewer people wearing masks, which were required in schools for much of the last two years.

"The best part of today was seeing all the kids' smiles, and seeing all the teachers' smiles, and not having it hidden behind a mask. It's hard to overestimate how important that is, because a lot of communication is nonverbal," Carroll said.

He also noted that this was the first time in many years that no archdiocesan schools closed, or were even in danger of closing. This is partly because a surge in enrollment during the pandemic helped reverse a decades-long downward trend in enrollment. When the Catholic schools began returning to in-person instruction before the public schools, enrollment in the Catholic schools increased as a result.

"Financially, the schools have been pretty strong, and from an enrollment perspective the archdiocese has been doing really well. So those two factors together have stabilized things," Carroll said.