When word came that Cathedral Grammar School in the South End would close at the end of the academic year, many children were devastated. Parents, while upset, are determined to continue their children’s Catholic education.
The Rev. Kevin O’Leary, rector at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, sent a letter to parents last week telling them that the century-old school that educates students from prekindergarten through sixth grade must shutter its doors because of declining enrollment caused by shifting demographics. By Friday, many parents, some traveling from as far away as Weymouth, already had ideas about where their children will attend school next fall.
Standing in the bitter afternoon cold waiting to pick up her bouncing first-grader, Tamisha Shaw said she has contacted administrators at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester about enrolling her 7-year-old once the school year ends. “The morals, the values, they pray,” the Randolph mother said. “I love that.”
But Shaw’s heart is heavy that her daughter’s spiritual development won’t continue at the place that helped her cognitive development flourish. “Cathedral really helped my daughter because when she was younger, she had a speech delay. Now, she’s speaking fluently,” Shaw said. “We’re really going to miss the school. The teachers and administrators are all wonderful.”
Attending Cathedral Grammar School is a tradition for Pronissa Gaines’s family. Gaines’s two older children — one in college, the other a high school senior — graduated from the school, which her youngest attends.
“Now, I have a third-grader here who is devastated,” she said. “She doesn’t want to go to any school at all.”
Cathedral Grammar, like many Catholic schools across the country, finds itself in the increasingly common, albeit painful, position of consolidating with other campuses as a way to provide a thriving learning environment, specialists said. Archdioceses throughout the Northeast and Midwest are contending with population shifts, and merging schools helps ensure that buildings are filled with engaged students and vibrant faculty members, said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, executive director of the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.
“Not as many young families are staying and living in these regions, and they’re not having as many children as in years gone by,” said Weitzel-O’Neill, who as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington saw her district shrink from 113 to 97 schools. “It’s a hard choice to make, but the population is shifting. We’re not living in the same places, and we’re not living the same way.”
As a consequence, schools built to educate children born to European immigrants at the turn of the 20th century and, later, baby boomers now sit fallow. According to the cornerstone of the brick building on Harrison Avenue directly behind Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the grammar school was built in 1910. The parish will now use it for adult and religious education classes.
“Despite the tireless efforts of the school’s faculty, parents, and administrators . . . shifting demographics and population trends have resulted in an ongoing decline in student enrollment,” O’Leary wrote in his letter. “Forecasts indicate that these demographic shifts will continue unabated.”
There are 130 students enrolled at Cathedral Grammar this year, 40 percent less than a decade ago, said Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Boston archdiocese. As a result, the school will be consolidatedwith Mission Grammar School at Roxbury Crossing, Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, and St. Patrick Elementary in Roxbury.
O’Leary said in his letter to parents that the school’s closure doesn’t mean an end to students’ Catholic education, but “ensures our students’ seamless transition into unique, yet equally excellent, Catholic schools.”
The 90 students who attend Cathedral with financial support from the Catholic Schools Foundation will continue to receive their scholarships if they choose to enroll in another Catholic school.
“It’s painful any time a school closes,” said Michael Reardon, executive director of the foundation, which provides scholarships to 5,000 students in the Archdiocese of Boston. But, he added, sometimes consolidating schools is necessary to guarantee that Catholic education endures. “We need to be obedient to reality.”
For the school’s 16 faculty members, reality now includes the possibility of unemployment. Teachers, if they want to stay with the archdiocese, must apply for jobs at other Catholic schools.