By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
St. James School in Elkins Park and Holy Martyrs School in Oreland, both in Montgomery County, will close at the end of the school year in June due to declining enrollments and increasing operational costs.
However, the St. James Early Childhood Education Center for kindergartners and children ages 3 and 4 and the Holy Martyrs Early Childhood Education Center for children ages 3 and 4 will remain open. Not all nearby parishes have a program for 3-and-4-year-old children.
“We always struggle with the decision to close any of our parish schools, especially schools like St. James and Holy Martyrs that have such rich histories of providing their communities with an affordable Catholic education,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said.
“It is my hope that the special spirit that infused these two schools will be carried with the students as they join the communities of other local Catholic schools.”
St. James School, founded in 1924, currently has an enrollment of 162 students, 18 of whom are eighth-graders scheduled to graduate in June.
Enrollment at St. James School had decreased from 253 students in 2000-01 to 60 students registered for 2010-11.
The figures include youngsters who attend the early childhood center, 25 of whom are currently kindergartners.
Without action, the parish was projected to incur significant debt, as the financial resources it generates were insufficient to cover the school subsidies.
Currently, 95 percent of the parish’s income is used to support St. James School.
St. James Early Childhood Education Center, in operation for nearly 30 years, runs at capacity each year, providing programs for 3-and-4-year olds as well as full or half-day kindergarten. It receives a nominal subsidy from the parish.
Neighboring Montgomery County parish schools, including Presentation B.V.M. in Cheltenham, St. Hilary of Poitiers in Rydal and Immaculate Conception B.V.M. in Jenkintown, are prepared to accept students from St. James School.
After consultation with his parish and financial councils, Father J. Thomas Heron, pastor of St. James Parish, said it was with “a heavy heart” that he recommended the school close.
“With our current and projected enrollment, it became clear that our school was not going to be able to continue to offer the quality of education that our parishioners have come to expect,” Father Heron said.
“Great gratitude is offered to the current faculty, staff and administration of St. James Parish School,” the pastor added. “I know of the many sacrifices and efforts that went into providing an exceptional spiritual and academic program over the years, as well as the many recent efforts to keep the school open in the future.”
Holy Martyrs School, founded in 1954, currently has an enrollment of 111 students in kindergarten through eighth grades, 15 of whom are eighth-graders scheduled to graduate in June.
Enrollment at Holy Martyrs had decreased from 127 students in 2000-01 to 82 students registered for 2010-11.
Holy Martyrs Early Childhood Education Center, in operation for more than 15 years, runs at capacity each year and it too receives a nominal subsidy from the parish.
Numerous nearby parish schools and a regional Catholic school are prepared to accept students from Holy Martyrs School, including Our Mother of Consolation in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, the Montgomery County parishes of St. Genevieve in Flourtown, St. Philip Neri in Lafayette Hill, St. Luke the Evangelist in Glenside, St. Alphonsus in Maple Glen, St. Anthony-St. Joseph in Ambler and Good Shepherd Regional Catholic School in Ardsley, which will open this fall through the consolidation of Queen of Peace School in Ardsley and St. John of the Cross School in Roslyn.
In November 2009, the pastor of Holy Martyrs, Father Michael J. Ryan, formed a steering committee to analyze the sustainability of Holy Martyrs School.
An analysis concluded that the parish as a whole was overwhelmingly in favor of supporting the school both financially and spiritually, but the financial burden was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the school.
With 82 students registered for the upcoming school year, the committee was faced with the need to substantially increase tuition and decrease operating costs to prevent further debt.
“The decision to close Holy Martyrs Parish School is extremely painful, but one that has been made with prayerful and thoughtful consideration,” said Father Ryan.
“I want to thank the dedicated faculty, staff and administration who have devoted themselves to educating the children of Holy Martyrs Parish School for so many years,” he added.
“We are sad that our school is closing, but our parish remains vibrant, currently offering 40 ministries and faith formation programs.”
The Cardinal expressed his gratitude to Fathers Heron and Ryan, and to “the dedicated administrators and faculties of both schools, as they help our students and families through this time of transition.”
The Archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education is assisting administrators and faculty of the closing schools who are seeking employment at other archdiocesan Catholic schools.
The early childhood education centers of St. James and Holy Martyrs are currently accepting registrations for September.
For more information, contact the St. James Early Childhood Education Center at 215-782-8443 and the Holy Martyrs Early Childhood Education Center at 215-572-8605.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.