Northeast reacts to elementary school closings

A sad day leaves pu­pils of some North­east grade schools won­der­ing about the fu­ture.


St. Wil­li­am Ele­ment­ary School fifth-grader Jason Mat­tis was dis­ap­poin­ted last Fri­day when he heard his school would be clos­ing in June.

“It’s sad be­cause I prac­tic­ally grew up here,” he said. “I wanted to make it to eighth grade.”

Jason will have to make it to eighth grade at an­oth­er school be­cause an Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia blue rib­bon com­mis­sion re­com­men­ded the clos­ing of St. Wil­li­am, on Rising Sun Av­en­ue in Lawndale, with stu­dents con­tinu­ing their edu­ca­tion at St. Cecil­ia, on Rhawn Street in Fox Chase.

Two oth­er loc­al schools will close.

Stu­dents at Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion, on Prin­ceton Av­en­ue in Ta­cony, will go to St. Mat­thew, on Cottman Av­en­ue in West May­fair.

The young people at Our Lady of Ransom, on Roosevelt Boulevard in Castor Gar­dens, will move to Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord, on Shelmire Av­en­ue in Rhawn­hurst.

Ad­di­tion­ally, St. Timothy School, on Levick Street in Lower May­fair, will wel­come stu­dents from Pope John Paul II in Brides­burg.

Also, St. Mar­tin of Tours, on Roosevelt Boulevard in Ox­ford Circle, will be­come a so-called “mis­sion” school. Com­mis­sion mem­ber Ed Han­way ex­plained that St. Mar­tin’s, the south­ern­most Cath­ol­ic school in the North­east, could be­ne­fit from ex­tra fund­ing, ser­vices and phys­ic­al as­sets from the likes of Busi­ness Lead­ers Or­gan­ized for Cath­ol­ic Schools.

Al­though the partnered schools will be housed at the site of the school with the high­er en­roll­ment — for in­stance, Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion has just 175 stu­dents while St. Mat­thew has 825 — they might have to change the name and uni­forms.

Mary Roch­ford, su­per­in­tend­ent for Cath­ol­ic schools, ex­plained that five people rep­res­ent­ing each school will, among oth­er things, choose a name.

“That wasn’t a de­cision the com­mis­sion got in­to,” said Monsignor Ed­ward De­li­man, a com­mis­sion mem­ber and former pas­tor of St. Mar­tin of Tours who saw his two alma ma­ters — Holy Trin­ity in Mor­ris­ville and Con­well-Egan (formerly Bish­op Egan) — land on the closed list.

The Rev. Joseph Wat­son, pas­tor at St. Wil­li­am, learned his school’s fate last Thursday night. He agrees with the com­mis­sion’s de­cision.

“But it does not take the pain or the hurt away,” he told pa­rish­ion­ers at­tend­ing the noon Mass on Sunday.

St. Wil­li­am has 295 stu­dents, so it is not sur­pris­ing the school is clos­ing. St. Cecil­ia has 670, the third highest among Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary schools in the North­east.

“They thought they were safe,” Wat­son said of of­fi­cials at St. Cecil­ia.

The pas­tor told his con­greg­a­tion that the fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tion of both schools will resign and be able to re­apply for jobs.

“A new school with a new name will emerge,” he said.

Wat­son, a St. Wil­li­am gradu­ate, was to get fur­ther in­form­a­tion on Tues­day, when pas­tors and prin­cipals of part­ner schools were sched­uled to meet with arch­dioces­an lead­ers.

Dur­ing the Mass, Wat­son asked all St. Wil­li­am gradu­ates and cur­rent teach­ers and stu­dents to stand for a round of ap­plause.

Fourth-grader Mat­thew Guy is sorry to see his school close.

“I like the teach­ers. They’re nice,” he said.

Brendan Guy, his broth­er, will be part of the fi­nal gradu­at­ing class at St. Wil­li­am be­fore mov­ing on to Ro­man Cath­ol­ic or Fath­er Judge.

“I’m happy I was able to get far at this school,” he said.

Brendan and Mat­thew live on Reach Street, close enough to walk to St. Wil­li­am. Mat­thew Guy won’t be able to walk or ride his bike to Rhawn Street.

“Trans­port­a­tion will be an is­sue,” said Bill Guy, his fath­er.

Re­gina Ross­man is a 1944 gradu­ate of St. Wil­li­am and re­mains friends with five class­mates. She re­mem­bers first grade, when Sis­ter St. Eliza­beth ran a classroom filled with 98 kids. She also re­mem­bers when Wat­son was an al­tar boy and tries to avoid call­ing the pas­tor “Joe.”

Her five chil­dren and three of her grand­chil­dren at­ten­ded the school.

“When I sent my kids here, it didn’t cost a dime,” she said.

However, church col­lec­tions are down.

Ross­man used to count the weekly con­tri­bu­tions, and she said they’ve dropped from roughly $16,000 to $8,000 in a few years. She still washes the al­tar lin­ens and dec­or­ates the church, and is happy that the church will re­main open.

As for the school, she notes that it must be costly to heat a build­ing with few­er than 300 stu­dents. She un­der­stands the com­mis­sion’s de­cision.

“I don’t know what else they could have done,” she said.

At Our Lady of Ransom, par­ents at­tend­ing Sunday’s 11 a.m. Mass were un­happy with the com­mis­sion’s de­cision to close their school.

The par­ents said the Rev. Chris­toph­er Red­cay, the former pas­tor, im­ple­men­ted a lot of pos­it­ive pro­grams. They praised Mary Toczylowski for teach­ing her kinder­garten pu­pils to identi­fy all 50 states and they lauded second-grade teach­er Mer­cedes Nippes for her long and dis­tin­guished ser­vice. And they poin­ted to a full pre-kinder­garten class, out­stand­ing Span­ish and math courses and a strong par­ent vo­lun­teer corps that re­cently planted a garden.

Nich­ole Man­cino, pres­id­ent of the home and school as­so­ci­ation, de­scribed Our Lady of Ransom as a “won­der­ful school.”

“We’re very dis­ap­poin­ted and un­sure,” she said.

While high schools held as­sem­blies to break the bad news, ele­ment­ary schools largely re­lied on par­ents to tell their chil­dren. Word star­ted leak­ing out in the me­dia early Fri­day af­ter­noon.

“There was a bet­ter way to do this,” said par­ent Allyson Batista.

Kar­en Moylan has two chil­dren in the school and is a lunch mom for sev­enth-graders. She feels sorry that they will have to at­tend an­oth­er school for their fi­nal year. She hopes most or all of the cur­rent Our Lady of Ransom fac­ulty mem­bers fol­low the chil­dren to their new des­tin­a­tion.

“There are won­der­ful, ded­ic­ated teach­ers in that school,” she said.

Kim Leipert said her daugh­ter Jes­sica, now in second grade, has been at Our Lady of Ransom since pre-kinder­garten and wants to keep the friends she’s had for the last four years.

“It’s not just a school, it’s a fam­ily,” she said.

Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion prin­cip­al Steph­en Di­Cicco de­clined com­ment, ask­ing for pray­ers for the school.

The arch­diocese briefed elec­ted of­fi­cials on the com­mis­sion’s re­com­mend­a­tions.

State Rep. John Taylor said he was “shocked” at the clos­ings of Our Lady of Ransom, Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion, Pope John Paul II, St. George in Port Rich­mond, St. Lauren­ti­us in Fishtown and St. Hubert High School. He plans to help schools that ap­peal and wel­comes calls to his dis­trict of­fice at 215-425-0901.

City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on at­ten­ded St. Bartho­lomew Ele­ment­ary School in Wissi­nom­ing and North Cath­ol­ic High School. Both have closed. He plans to work with the may­or, Coun­cil and arch­diocese to help stu­dents trans­ition to an­oth­er school and to make sure that the va­cated build­ings are util­ized re­spons­ibly and in a man­ner con­sist­ent with the needs of the sur­round­ing com­munit­ies. ••


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