By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Facing declining enrollment, St. Bernard Parish School in Northeast Philadelphia will close this June. The announcement was made March 5.
Children from the parish will be invited to attend either St. Dominic School or St. Matthew School, which are the two closest territorial parish schools in that area.
“I know that this is extremely painful news for the St. Bernard Parish community,” said St. Bernard’s pastor, Father Joseph N. Accardi. “This is not a decision made lightly, it is a decision made responsibly, with vision for the long term so that all children of St. Bernard Parish may continue to receive the highest quality education.”
As recently as 2006 the school had an enrollment of 308 students, according to figures released by the parish. This year it was down to 202, and the expected enrollment for next year was only 177. The projected per-student education cost was expected to rise to $4,239, up more than $1,000 from the per-student cost of $3,215 as recently as 2006-07.
The school community has been aware of the probability of the closing for several months. Last December Father Accardi and archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Mary E. Rochford met with the parents and apprised them of the current status of the school. At the time they indicated there were serious concerns about the viability of the school beyond the current academic year.
The recommendation was made to Cardinal Justin Rigali that the school close. In accepting the recommendation, the Cardinal said, “I recognize how difficult this decision will be for the St. Bernard Parish community. No one ever wants to see one of our parish schools close. This decision was made with much prayer and consideration for the needs of the parish and the community. I will keep St. Bernard Parish community close in mind and pray that they may find comfort in their faith during this time of transition.”
St. Bernard’s has suffered from an exodus of young Catholic families, as have many city schools. In the 1940s, when wartime constraints made building expansion impossible, the school was so crowded that children in the lower grades could only attend half days – with classrooms used by different grades in the afternoons and mornings. At its peak, St. Bernard’s had an enrollment close to 1,200, estimates. Joe Winooski, a member of the parish finance council who sent his two sons to the school.
“It was a good school, very well run. I enjoyed my kids going there and I feel they received a good education. This was a brutal decision, but you can’t keep a school open with too few children,” he said. “Attendance is down and that makes it very difficult, it all comes down to financing it.”