There was a mix of heartbreak and elation at three Catholic schools north of Boston last week, as two closed their doors permanently while one broke ground on a multimillion-dollar expansion.
Parents of children attending the Saint Joseph School of All Saints Parish in Haverhill were notified that the 129-year-old school will close this month. June 9 marked the official closing date for the Saint Clement School in Medford, which first opened in 1925.
Meanwhile, on June 7, St. Mary’s of Lynn broke ground on a $12 million expansion that will add computer labs, a guidance suite, and other features to the school’s Tremont Street campus, said Grace Cotter Regan, head of school at St. Mary’s.
While Saint Clement’s students and alumni learned it would close in May, the end was a shock to many in the Saint Joseph community.
“I was definitely at a loss for words, because St. Joe’s was my second home for 11 years,” said Kasey Hartung, 21.
Hartung, who attended the coed prekindergarten to eighth-grade school and served as class president in 2010, went on to graduate from Phillips Academy in Andover and is now a student at Tufts University. She said Saint Joseph’s challenged her academically, and her family had history there. Her grandfather attended the school, and her father coached her basketball team.
News of the closing came in a letter from the Rev. Timothy Kearney, the Saint Joseph School pastor, to parents last Wednesday.
Enrollment at the Haverhill school on Oak Terrace declined by more than half between 2012 and the current school year, from 269 students to 133, Kearney said in his letter. Officials would like to keep the nursery school on Bellevue Avenue open, Kearney said, but plans are still up in the air.
“It was a school that had a real family atmosphere,” Kearney said in an interview.
The school charged annual tuition of about $5,100 per student to contributing members of the All Saints Parish, and about $5,900 for others, according to the school.
In Medford, enrollment at Saint Clement dropped from 256 boys and girls during the 2012-2013 school year to 147 this year in prekindergarten, kindergarten, and grades 6 to 12, according to the Archdiocese of Boston. Annual tuition was $9,800, but the majority of students received some kind of financial aid, according to the Rev. Stefano Colombo, the former head of school.
About 11 miles away in Lynn, it’s all about looking forward for St. Mary’s.
“With schools closing, what I really pride our school on is we really think of operational vitality,” Cotter Regan said. “It takes great leadership, strong governance, a laser focus on our finances, and focus on enrollment.”
St. Mary’s draws students from about 30 cities and towns, with 42 percent of its 500 boys and girls in grades 6-12 made up of Lynn residents, Cotter Regan said.
In order to keep the 155-year-old school vibrant, Cotter Regan has led a campaign to raise funds for the school’s endowment — currently at $15 million, she said — which can then pay for projects such as the current expansion and financial aid to offset the $13,200 annual tuition for high school students.
With the increase in charter schools and an effort by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to revamp public school facilities, it’s important for Catholic schools to stay relevant, Cotter Regan said.
“It’s a very competitive market with shrinking demographics, and lots of choices,” she said.
Although three schools under the Archdiocese of Boston are closing this year (Saint Clement, Saint Joseph, and Country Day School of the Holy Union, a prekindergarten to sixth grade coed school in Groton), St. Mary’s and other Catholic schools in the region are growing. The Cheverus School in Malden had a 12 percent bump in enrollment for its coed preschool through Grade 8 this year, showing that Catholic education in the state remains strong, said Kathy Mears, school superintendent for the archdiocese.
In addition, Malden Catholic announced in April it would revamp its campus to accommodate a School for Girls opening in September 2018.
Administrators in the 118 schools within the Boston Archdiocese are now focusing on how to attract more students.
“We’re not as strong as I’d like to be, but we’re making strides,” Mears said. “Our schools are working very hard to be great options for parents.”