By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

St. Benedict School in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia and St. Ann School, Bristol, will close in June at the end of the current school year, the parish pastors announced March 30.

The two schools were faced with declining enrollment and rising per-student tuitions.

After careful studies led by pastors Father George B. Moore at St. Benedict and Trinitarian Father James R. Day at St. Ann with their parish finance councils and pastoral councils, it was recommended the schools be closed, and Cardinal Rigali accepted the recommendations.

At St. Benedict the steady decline in school enrollment has continued to impact the financial health of the school and the parish. This year, the school enrollment was 164 students. Forecasted enrollment for next year was 150; the cost per student would have been $4,000.

At St. Ann, a steady decline in school enrollment has also dramatically increased the cost of educating each student and forced an increased tuition burden on parish families. Last year, the parish finance and pastoral councils met to discuss options and brought the information to the parish and school families.

Despite much effort to increase enrollment and broaden fundraising and marketing of the school, total student enrollment decreased to 125 in the 2008-09 school year.

The actual tuition cost per child would be $5,000 for next year, and because the parish could not increase its already significant subsidy, the recommended tuition for next year would have been $4,000 for the children of parishioners and $5,000 for non-parishioners.

Only five students re-registered for the 2009-10 school year.

In accepting the parish recommendations that the two schools close, Cardinal Rigali said, “I understand and respect that this is extremely painful news for the St. Benedict and St. Ann parish families. These difficult decisions are never made lightly but always responsibly, with much prayer, analysis and long-term thinking to ensure that an affordable, high-quality Catholic education is within reach for our parents to provide for their children. I keep St. Benedict and St. Ann parish communities close in mind and pray that they find comfort in their faith during this time of transition.”

Current St. Benedict and St. Ann parents will receive assistance from their school administrations and the Office of Catholic Education to enroll their students at nearby Catholic schools. The Office of Catholic Education will also assist the teachers in finding placement at other Catholic schools.

“The school has a long tradition at St. Benedict and the parish has been subsidizing it for a very long time,” Father Moore said, “but with rising costs it couldn’t continue to do so because it would jeopardize the parish itself.

“We will make every effort to place the children in other schools,” he said, noting that almost all of the surrounding parishes still have a school.

“I’m very proud of all of the hard work of the Holy Trinity Sisters, faculty, families, alumni and parishioners through the years who sacrificed for the development of the school,” Father Day said. “In the end the school was just too much for the parish to absorb if we wanted to keep the tuition at an affordable rate.”

“It’s sad but the right thing to do. We’ve been looking at this for a few years,” said John Kleinfelder, a parish council member at St. Ann whose family through his wife, goes back generations to the founding of the school. “Everybody tried to keep it open but the deficit was crazy. We worked hard but when you are down to 100 kids it’s not going to happen.”

In spite of the closing, “the spirit of the parish is great,” he said.

At St. Benedict, parish council member Mildred Travis knows the value of the school because her seven children are graduates and her grandchildren still attend.

“Of course we are sad that it’s closing,” she said. “But with the economy the way it is … the parish is not able to keep carrying the school. We went everywhere looking for funds but we just couldn’t do it.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.