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Four Catholic schools to close under pressures from pandemic


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BRAINTREE -- Four Catholic schools in the archdiocese have each announced that they will not reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, citing financial difficulties, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four schools are St. Louis School in Lowell, St. Rose of Lima School in Chelsea, St. Jerome School in Weymouth, and St. Francis of Assisi School in Braintree.

The first school to announce its closure due to the effects of the pandemic was Immaculate Conception in Marlborough on May 5.

A May 20 letter from Father Richard Clancy, pastor of the River of Divine Mercy Catholic Collaborative, and Vina Troianello, principal of St. Louis School, announced the closure of St. Louis School and assured the students' families of support in finding other educational opportunities. The letter also said that First Communion and graduation ceremonies would take place during the summer.

St. Louis School was founded in 1907 to educate the children of Canadian immigrants, many of whom sought work in the local textile industry. Originally staffed by the Sisters of the Assumption, the school has served generations of families in Lowell.

"We look forward to a time when we can celebrate and give thanks to our God for the blessings of the Sisters of the Assumption and the dedicated staff who have served so generously throughout all these years," Father Clancy and Troianello said in the letter.

Thomas Carroll, superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, informed the St. Rose of Lima School community of its closure in a letter dated May 22.

Carroll noted that even before the pandemic, enrollment at St. Rose of Lima School had been decreasing in recent years, dropping from 245 students a decade ago to 217 students three years ago.

He said enrollment was projected to be only 130 students for the coming year and noted that the school could face a shortfall of up to $250,000 at that level.

"As a result, we do not have enough money to pay our dedicated teachers and staff for the full school year," Carroll said in the letter, which was available in both English and Spanish.

Carroll said that he and his staff, along with Father Hilario Sanez, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, have spoken with Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Chelsea city manager Thomas Ambrosino, and Chelsea city council president Roy Avellaneda.

"Once the pandemic clears, we hope to find a way forward to restart, in one form or another, an educational presence in the City of Chelsea. Since we don't know how long this pandemic will last or how long the economy will be in recession, we unfortunately cannot know the time frame or scope for this effort," Carroll said.

Carroll informed the St. Jerome School community of their school's closure in a letter dated June 1. He said enrollment had dropped from 210 students in 2010 to 181 in 2015, then to 158 in the current school year. Enrollment was currently at 110 students for the upcoming school year.

"There is no scenario under which the current enrollment level of 158 students will be attained in the year ahead. At 110 students or any number around that level, the school could face a large and growing deficit, which will widen as enrollment continues to drop in this weak economy," Carroll said in the letter.

The superintendent also addressed a proposal by some in the school community that a "reasonable" school budget could be created at an enrollment level of 125 students.

"A budget at this level -- an enrollment level we don't even have for next year -- requires an extraordinary level of risk and wholly unrealistic assumptions," he said.

Carroll went on to say that "in this economic and enrollment environment, the archdiocese simply cannot sustain three Catholic schools in Weymouth. Despite months of efforts to raise enrollment, St. Jerome still has the lowest enrollment of the three Catholic schools in Weymouth."

In a separate announcement, Sacred Heart School in Weymouth Landing and St. Francis Xavier School in South Weymouth said they will collaborate to provide different grade levels of Catholic education within the community for the upcoming school year.

Finally, Father Paul Clifford, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Braintree, informed the St. Francis of Assisi School community of its closure in a letter dated June 2.

He invited the parents of students currently enrolled at the school to participate in a conference call through the Catholic Schools Office on June 3. He was to be on the call along with Carroll, principal Brian Cote, and Martha Hultzman, the associate superintendent for school finance and operations.

"We have been challenged by a steady decline in enrollment in past years. This latest drop is no doubt a direct result of the pandemic and the high unemployment rates that have not been seen since the Great Depression. These same economic realities are not only affecting many of you, the parents who are the cornerstone of our school community, but are also impacting the ability of donors to offer help," Father Clifford said.

In his letters to St. Rose of Lima School and St. Jerome School, Carroll cited "a broader national trend in Catholic schools this year," hundreds of which are likely to close due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.

He assured parents that scholarships provided through the Catholic Schools Foundation will continue at any other Catholic school in the archdiocese.

"We will help you find another school for your children and also pray that you remain safe and healthy in the days and months ahead," Carroll said.

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