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Boston’s only Catholic high school for girls to close

Dozens of students who attended Boston’s only Catholic high school for girls are scrambling to make new plans for the fall after the board of trustees at Elizabeth Seton Academy voted this week to close.

Kailana Harriott, 17, who was entering her senior year at the Dorchester school, said she learned Wednesday that classes would not resume.

“It was sad. It’s also frustrating . . . I have a month essentially to find a new place to call my school,” said Harriott, who lives in Roxbury. “The school that I’d like to attend is closing down.”

Trustees at the independent school voted to close Monday after considering a possible merger, said Frances C. Birmingham, who leads the board. The school had planned to reopen in September, she said.

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“Our overwhelming debt, our lack of financial stability, and the reduced number of students all were major factors,” Birmingham said Thursday.

When Birmingham got involved with the school four years ago, she said, the academy faced about $400,000 in debt, which it lowered to about $300,000 through fund-raising and tuition. Students paid $8,200 annually to attend, she said.

“We have labored under a debt that I inherited and we have not been able to raise sufficient funds to eliminate that debt and operate successfully,” Birmingham said. “Everyone associated with Elizabeth Seton Academy is devastated by this.”

Though some teachers were leaving the school and students were aware of the financial problems, Harriott said the decision to close was a shock.

“I didn’t think I would get an e-mail saying my school was shutting down,” said Harriott, who spent the summer studying at the Crimson Summer Academy at Harvard University.

Harriott’s mother, Tonya David, said she doesn’t know how she’ll find another school for her daughter on short notice.

“There was no preparation for us to help our children get prepared to go to different schools or even have a chance to do something,” David said. “I understand that financial problems can come on and there might not be enough enrollment, but still you knew about this along time ago, not just a month before school starts.”

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The majority of the 80 students lived in Boston, Birmingham said. The academy graduated 29 students in the spring and all were accepted to a four-year college or university, she said.

About a dozen girls were entering the ninth grade, half the size of last year’s incoming class, according to Birmingham.

“The number of students coming into the freshman class was substantially less than last year and prior years, which increased our financial burden,” she said.

An open house and school fair has been scheduled for Monday to help students find new schools, Birmingham said. The Archdiocese of Boston is also helping to place students, she said.

The school was established in 2003 after the closing of Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School in Dorchester, an all-girls school. The academy operated at the site of the former Saint Gregory Parish High School and had 45 students when it opened, a school official said.

The school’s founders include Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and former mayor Raymond Flynn. Walsh said the school’s financial problems were too difficult to surmount.

“It was a small school, you’re dealing with competition, and the overhead just became too much to overcome,” he said. “I just think that in today’s world with education, there’s just so much competition.”

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Birmingham said more than 200 students graduated from the school, and each was accepted into a four-year college or university. Many students, she said, came from poor families in Boston.

“We have provided an opportunity for over 200 kids to go to college,” Birmingham said. “That’s our legacy. That’s our contribution.”


Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.