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As one Catholic high school shutters, another readies for its new home

Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence (above) will relocate to the Methuen campus currently occupied by Presentation of Mary Academy.
Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence (above) will relocate to the Methuen campus currently occupied by Presentation of Mary Academy.Handout

As the Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen prepares to close its doors this spring, another Catholic high school is poised to occupy its site.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, which runs the Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence, has agreed to purchase the 5-acre academy property in order to relocate its school to the site.

The proposed sale — jointly announced by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Sisters of Presentation of Mary — is now undergoing its 120-day review period, according to Notre Dame spokeswoman Rebecca Twitchell.

If the sale goes through, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur hope to make the relocation this fall, providing the 282-student school with the expanded space it has long sought.

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The Sisters of Presentation of Mary announced last October it was shuttering the academy at the end of this school year because of declining enrollment and related financial issues, according to Sister Helene Cote, the order’s New England provincial. Enrollment has dropped from 297 in 2011 to 148 today.

“We were really heartbroken that we had to close the school — it’s a wonderful school,” she said. “But knowing that another Catholic school with a mission similar to ours will be coming in has really helped us accept the closure.”

Sister Maryalyce Gilfeather, president of Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School, said students and others at her school are “sensitive to the loss” that is being experienced by the academy community as it prepares for closure.

“But that loss has now become an unexpected blessing for our school community,” she said.

The two coeducational schools are both run by international Catholic orders whose primary mission is education.

In addition to the high school in Methuen, which opened in 1958, the Sisters of Presentation of Mary runs an elementary school in Hudson, N.H., and and a university in Nashua.

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Opened in 2004, Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School is one of six schools in Massachusetts run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The Lawrence school, which rents its space from a local parish, is the only Notre Dame school in the country that belongs to Cristo Rey, a national network of Catholic schools that serve disadvantaged youth.

In the past, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur also supplied staffing for other Merrimack Valley Catholic schools, including St. Monica’s School, which is across from Presentation of Mary Academy.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and its school board had been researching the possible relocation of the school for about five years when the Sisters of Presentation of Mary Academy last fall disclosed closure plans. The two schools quickly began talks leading to the agreement.

Sister Maryalice said that in addition to sorely needed space and facilities it now lacks such as a gymnasium, the new campus will provide the school with more control of its operations since it will own the property.

The five-building academy site is part of the 24-acre Searles Estate owned by the Sisters of Presentation of Mary. The other 19 acres, which have been used as housing for some of its sisters, is now on the market.

Sister Maryalice said Notre Dame is initiating a campaign to raise the estimated $7.5 million needed to renovate two campus buildings, but will be able to relocate next fall because the other three are in adequate shape. The school is now exploring options for students who will need transportation to the Methuen campus.

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“We are never without dreams of what we can do,” Sister Maryalice said. “And now those dreams can become a reality because space is no longer a limitation.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence will relocate to the Methuen campus currently occupied by Presentation of Mary Academy (above), which will close.
Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence will relocate to the Methuen campus currently occupied by Presentation of Mary Academy (above), which will close.Handout