Ascension of Our Lord School holds a special place in Dolores Livingstone’s heart — like it does for many Kensington residents.
Livingstone, born Dolores McGowan, grew up directly across the street from the elementary school, on Westmoreland Street near G. She started first grade there in 1929 and was a member of the parish for more than 60 years before moving out of the neighborhood.
“It’s the only parish I’ve ever had,” she said fondly.
Livingstone, 87, was one of more than 400 former pupils, faculty and friends who gathered at the Ascension of Our Lord parish on Sunday to bid farewell to the school, which will close at the end of the academic year due to falling enrollment.
For Livingstone, who rose proudly when current principal Terry Richardson asked graduates from the 1930s to stand at the start of farewell ceremonies, the day was bittersweet.
“It’s sad,” said Livingstone, who now lives in Fox Chase. “It’s a shame to see it close down.”
Although she said it was difficult to see the 105-year-old fixture close its doors, she was happy to attend the proceedings and be reunited with old friends, saying “today was very nice.”
Ascension of Our Lord is one of seven archdiocesan schools in Philadelphia and Bucks County that will close, the Office of Catholic Education announced in March.
Only 131 students were registered at the school this year, which represents a 43 percent enrollment decrease in five years.
As numbers fell, concerns mounted, administrators said.
“We knew as soon as enrollment dropped below 200 that the school was at risk of closing,” said Richardson, who has been principal of the school for 11 years. “Then you need to start increasing tuition, and many people in this neighborhood already can’t afford it.”
This year, tuition at the school climbed to $2,400 for parish members and $3,500 for non-members, and hefty increases would have been the only way for the school to pay teachers and meet operating costs.
“People simply can’t afford to absorb tuition costs,” said Richardson, who said further increases would price out many families.
The school provided scholarships and financial aid to help local parents foot tuition bills, but falling enrollment made it impossible to keep the school affordable enough for current students and attract new ones, Richardson said.
“We couldn’t do it without help from the Archdiocese, and we needed more and more help each year,” she said.
Families in search of another Catholic school for their children have few remaining options in the neighborhood. St. Anne, on Tucker Street near Memphis, and St. Hugh of Cluny, on Tioga Street near Mascher in Fairhill, will also close their parish schools this year.
Richardson said about half of the current pupils will attend Our Lady of Port Richmond or one of the other remaining Catholic schools in the neighborhood, while other families will opt for charter or public schools for financial reasons.
Anna Ruffo, who reminisced with former classmates on Sunday about clapping erasers and lining up for May Procession, said the school could never be replaced.
“I would never have picked another school,” said Ruffo, who attended Ascension of Our Lord School in 1974 and married in the parish years later. “I never wanted to leave here.”
Joanne McGuire, who worked at the school for 24 years and admittedly “has been here longer than some of the furniture,” never wanted to leave either.
“We know economically it wasn’t feasible for the school to stay open,” McGuire said. “But when you work with the children, you don’t want to see it go away for them.”
Richardson agreed but said dwindling class sizes made it difficult for the school to provide a well-rounded education for students.
“When you only have 10 students in a class, that’s not a viable classroom,” Richardson said. “Small class sizes are a good thing, but that small is not so good.”
Along with Ascension of Our Lord, St. Anne and St. Hugh of Cluny, the Archdiocese said it will close St. Cyprian in Cobbs Creek this year. In Bucks County, St. Martin of Tours, in New Hope, Our Lady of Fatima, in Bensalem and St. Thomas Aquinas, in Croydon, will also close their doors.••
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