The final decision on closings or consolidations of archdiocesan elementary schools as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Jan. 6 and as modified through an appeals process ordered by Archbishop Charles Chaput was released Feb. 17 in conjunction with a morning press briefing led by Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, who oversees the Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The commission’s original recommendations called for 81 schools to form 37 regional schools. As amended, 49 schools will form 23 regional schools and 10 will close outright. The panel originally recommended only one school for closure.
(See the full list of affected schools.)
A decision on the future of four archdiocesan high schools recommended for closure was postponed for approximately one week, because of the emergence of potential donors working to keep them open.
“I recognize how anxious all of those affected by this decision are to hear the final outcome,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement. “I want to see this resolved too, but this decision is too important to be made without considering absolutely every fact and all serious, substantive proposals even if they don’t fit the time frame originally set. We owe it to our teachers, administrators, students and school families.”
The Archbishop, who had been slated to attend the consistory for new cardinals in Rome, cancelled his travel plans because of the school issue and other issues pending in Philadelphia, Bishop Fitzgerald said.
The Review Committee, which consisted of Blue Ribbon Commission members and archdiocesan administrators, began meetings on Jan. 12 with all schools recommended for consolidation or closure. School representatives were given an opportunity to present facts and documentation to support their request that their status be reconsidered.
“These changes are occurring for a number of reasons,” Bishop Fitzgerald said. “Some schools will remain free-standing parish schools because they have demonstrated that they are poised for long-term viability. Some schools are closing outright to allow welcoming schools to retain their identity. Other schools may still form a regional school but at a different location that may be better.”
The announcement of the reconfiguration of the schools is only an initial step, according to Bishop Fitzgerald.
“It is important to realize that today is about taking the next step in securing sustainability and affordability as art of an ongoing process,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford estimated the revised plans would affect about 13,000 students as opposed to the original 20,000 and 1,100 teachers as opposed to 1,500.
Bishop Fitzgerald declined to give specifics about the group of donors that has emerged to donate funds toward possibly keeping open the high schools slated for closing. He said the donors had requested information on all four — Conwell-Egan, St. Hubert, Monsignor Bonner-Bishop Prendergast and West Catholic.
Another initiative announced at the press briefing was the creation of up to 14 mission schools, almost all in the City of Philadelphia and in underserved communities, replicating the successful example of St. Martin de Porres School in North Philadelphia. A number of these schools were slated for consolidation under the original Blue Ribbon Commission proposal.
Jack Donnelly, representing a group attempting to raise funds for these proposed mission schools, said, “Through the concept of mission schools we may be able to keep open schools which might otherwise close. Mission schools are designed to have a permanent source of funding and to identify and serve the needs of underserved urban communities who desire a Catholic education but are unable to afford one. These schools will be Catholic but operated independently.”
Eleanor Dezzi, a member of the Archdiocesan Board of Education who served on both the Blue Ribbon Commission and the review process, spoke on the need to advocate for government assistance for the schools because “education is a priority for the future of our city, our state and our country.”
Elementary schools that appealed the original recommendations received the news of any changes the previous day, and those who were informed they would not become part of a regional school were naturally elated.
St. Laurentius School in Philadelphia has 246 pupils and had been slated to regionalize at St. Peter the Apostle School. Father Francis A. Gwiazda, the pastor of St. Laurentius Parish, had not been able to personally deliver his school’s appeal because he was in rehabilitation from knee surgery, so his contribution was prayer.
“I prayed especially to St. John Neumann,” he said. “It was St. John Neumann, the Blessed Mother and the good Lord who helped us.”
At Holy Trinity School in Morrisville, which has 226 students and was scheduled to join with St. John the Evangelist, Father John C. Eckert, the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, thought his school had a good case because enrollment was stable and tuition was low.
Oblate Father Robert Bazzoli of Our Mother of Consolation Parish in the Chestnut Hill section of the city wrote his school community after receiving the news they wouldn’t become a regional school. “Perhaps the hand of God,” he wrote, “is drawing us closer together and helping us to realize, once again, the gift we have in our parish school, a gift we may not have appreciated as much as we could.”