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April 9, 2010

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Announces the Closing of
St. Joseph Parish School in Collingdale and Stella Maris School in South Philadelphia

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, along with Saint Joseph Parish in Collingdale and Stella Maris Parish in South Philadelphia, announce that the two parishes' respective schools will close at the end of the current school year.

At the end of February, Cardinal Rigali announced that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would consider keeping Stella Maris School and St. Joseph Parish School open for the 2010-2011 school year, dependent upon registration. As the registration period concluded on March 30, each school had too few students registered to keep the parish schools open.

Saint Joseph School, which needed 200 students to open in the fall, registered 142. Stella Maris School, which needed 175 students to remain open, registered 69.

Earlier this week, the pastor, parochial administrator, the principals and business managers of each parish met with representatives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to see if there was any way possible that the schools could remain open. Unfortunately the reality is that the parishes cannot sustain the schools with so few students.

Cardinal Rigali said, "It was our hope that through registration and fundraising efforts, Stella Maris and St. Joseph parish schools could remain open but sadly the conscientious and diligent efforts of the parish schools' communities were unable to surmount the trend of declining enrollment."
Cardinal Rigali continued, "Providing our children with the highest quality, faith-filled education remains our priority. As we stay steadfast in this commitment, difficult and painful decisions, such as closing St. Joseph and Stella Maris parish schools, must be made to ensure the viability of our parishes and first-rate education of our young people. I extend my gratitude to Father DiMaria, Father Reilly, and the dedicated administrators, faculties and communities of both schools, as they help our students and families through this time of transition."

All registration fees will be refunded within ten days. In the coming weeks, meetings will be held at each parish for the other Catholic schools in the area to provide parents information about tuition, uniforms, academics and other programs in those schools. There are no plans for any alternate use of the school buildings at either Saint Joseph or Stella Maris at this time.

St. Joseph Parish School, Collingdale
On February 26, Cardinal Rigali and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said that St. Joseph Parish School could potentially remain open for the 2010-2011 school year, if a registration goal of 200 students was met. When the registration period ended on March 30, 2010, there were 142 students registered, with the result that some classes would be as small as six or eight students.

Fr. Michael Reilly, whom Cardinal Rigali appointed Parochial Administrator of Saint Joseph Parish in February 2010, said in a letter to parents, "I tried my best and joined with the parent committee in promoting our school. I interviewed a number of families, some I was able to help, others stated that they did not want to return to the school because of all the upheaval. We worked hard and we worked together. In the end, we did not meet our goal. Besides not being able to meet our goal of 200 registered students, another concern is the mounting costs. If the school were to re-open with just 142 students, the deficit for school operations in just one year at a minimum would be $518,000. This amount would add to the $800,000 debt we already carry. It is important to point out that our parish continues to receive Archdiocesan assistance every year.

The school has 230 students for the current school year. The goal for the next school year was 200 students resulting in a parish a cost per student of $4,400. With 142 students the cost per student would be $6,437. The parish could not afford to sustain the difference between tuition and the actual cost to educate each student. At the same time, such a low enrollment jeopardizes the quality standards the Archdiocese desires for a solid Catholic Education for our children. The school is already unable to provide a teacher dedicated solely to music, art, computers or gym. The school has experienced dramatically increasing costs and declining enrollment, decreasing from 518 students in 2003-2004 to 230 students currently.

Fr. Reilly said, "As we deal with this sad reality, I want to extend my gratitude to the faculty and staff at St. Joseph and also, in a special way I thank all of the volunteers who tried so valiantly during recent months to "save our school."

The designated schools for the children to attend will be Saint Gabriel in Norwood, Saint Eugene in Primos and Our Lady of Fatima in Secane. If parents have a specific need or are requesting an exception, they are asked kindly to see Father Reilly to discuss their request. Finally, the school families that are designated as participating parishioners will receive the parish subsidy. This subsidy will make up the difference between out-of-parish tuition and in-parish tuition at the new school. Saint Joseph Parish will offer this subsidy as planning continues for the future of Catholic elementary education in the area.

Saint Joseph School Enrollment:
2006-2007: 389
2007-2008: 359
2009-2010: 230
Registered 2011: 142

Stella Maris Parish School:
Fr. DiMaria and the Stella Maris Parish School Study Group, as part of the formal School Feasibility Study in the South Philadelphia Vicariate, began evaluating Stella Maris School's viability beginning in September 2009. The school has experienced dramatically declining enrollment and increasing costs, decreasing from 284 students in 2003-2004 to 181 students currently. In March 2010 Cardinal Rigali and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that the school could remain open for the coming year with if a registration goal of 175 students (pre-k through eighth grades) was met. When the registration period concluded on March 30, 2010, there were just 69 students registered for 2010-2011.

If the school were to re-open with just 69 students, it would face a deficit of more than $800,000, which would then exhaust all of Stella Maris Parish funds, forcing the parish into debt. The parish would also need to seriously compromise all of its other ministries or programs to focus solely on the school. At the same time, such a low enrollment would jeopardize the quality of the education provided to the parish children.

Father DiMaria said, "It is important to realize that the children of our parish will continue to have access to quality Catholic education. The area designated schools for the children to attend will be Saint Monica and Epiphany of Our Lord. To help in the smooth transition, the Office of Catholic Education, Principal Sister Lawrence Elizabeth, S.S.J., and I will do the following: 1) arrange for a meeting at our parish shortly so that you can learn more about our designated schools in terms of academics, programs, tuition, uniforms and more and 2) refund all registration fees within ten days. The school families of Stella Maris who opt to attend either Epiphany of Our Lord or Saint Monica Parish School in September 2010 will receive the parish subsidy to make up the difference between out-of parish tuition and in-parish tuition at the new school. Stella Maris Parish will offer this subsidy as we continue planning for the future of Catholic elementary education in the area."

"It gives me great pain to close our parish school and I know it will cause tremendous sadness for you, the school families, for our dedicated faculty and your precious children," said Father DiMaria said in a letter to school families. "Unfortunately, Stella Maris is in crisis now and must take decisive action. However, Stella Maris will continue to be part of the planning to ensure quality Catholic education for our parishioners and this region of South Philadelphia."

Stella Maris Enrollment:

2006-2007: 274
2007-2008: 259
2009-2010: 181
Registered 2011: 69


Donna Farrell
Director of Communications

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