Alumni bid farewell to a century of learning at Ascension

Sis­ter Fran­cis Lun­ney em­braces former stu­dent Lourdes Soto, 20, at As­cen­sion of Our Lord in Kens­ing­ton. Stu­dents past and present re­turned for the farewell mass and fest­iv­it­ies on May 22. The school will be clos­ing its doors on June 10.

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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