By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Cardinal Dougherty High School and Northeast Catholic High School for Boys in Philadelphia will close in June 2010 at the conclusion of the school year, due to declining enrollments and rising costs to maintain the schools, Cardinal Justin Rigali announced at a 7 p.m. press conference Thursday, Oct. 8 at the Archdiocesan Office Center in Center City.

“It is with a heavy heart that I make this announcement this evening,” Cardinal Rigali said.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Video of announcement press conference
Photo Gallery
Chart of enrollment history of Cardinal Dougherty HS, 1960-2009
Letter to parents of Cardinal Dougherty High School
Chart of enrollment history of Northeast Catholic HS, 1960-2009
Letter to parents of Northeast Catholic High School
Web site of Cardinal Dougherty HS
Web site of Northeast Catholic HS

Cardinal Dougherty High, located in the Olney section of Philadelphia at 6301 N. Second St., currently has 642 students on its roster, although it has a capacity for more than 2,000.

Throughout the last decade, Dougherty’s enrollment has declined by more than 43 percent and was projected to decline by an additional 34 percent in the next three years. Its physical plant is the third largest of all the archdiocesan high schools. Founded in 1956, the school had a peak enrollment of 5,944 students in 1965.

Northeast Catholic, located at 1842 Torresdale Ave. in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, has an enrollment of 551 students but a capacity for 1,700.

Founded in 1926, North Catholic has experienced a steady decline in enrollment since 1999-2000, dropping 29 percent in the last 10 years. It was projected to decrease an additional 24 percent in the next three years.

The peak enrollment at North Catholic was 4,410 students in 1953.

“This difficult decision was made after much prayer, study and reflection to ensure proper stewardship of our school system so that Catholic schools can continue to offer affordable, high-quality, academic instruction,” Cardinal Rigali said. “We can do no less for our young people who must be well-equipped to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

The decision followed a one-year comprehensive study that the Archdiocese’s Office of Catholic began in September 2008. Commissioned by the archdiocesan Board of Education, the study examined current and projected enrollments, regional demographic trends, building capacities and the finances of inspanidual archdiocesan Catholic high schools.

The Office of Catholic Education, in consultation with the Board of Education, recommended the closures of the two schools.

Richard McCarron, the Archdiocese’s Secretary for Catholic Education, said that without action, declining enrollment would accelerate tuition increases and compromise the overall quality of the Catholic education system.

At the end of the school day on Oct. 8, McCarron and officials of the Office of Catholic Education met with faculty and staff at Northeast Catholic to inform them of the decision. At the same time, Mary Rochford, the Archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools, and other officials met with the faculty and staff of Cardinal Dougherty High to inform them of the upcoming closure.

Both McCarron and Rochford are alumni of Cardinal Dougherty. McCarron is also a former faculty member of Northeast Catholic.

That same afternoon, parents of Dougherty and Northeast Catholic were alerted by telephone that an important letter, which was also being sent to them by standard mail, was posted on the archdiocesan web site.

Both schools held assemblies for the students the following morning, Friday, Oct. 9.

McCarron said the Office of Catholic Education is committed to assisting parents in placing their children in the various diocesan high schools.

“Our archdiocesan high schools have always been so much more than bricks and mortar,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who assists the Cardinal in overseeing the Secretariat for Catholic Education. “Catholic Dougherty is people and North Catholic is people,” he added.

“Although closing these two schools saddens us all, by hopefully enrolling the current students of Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic in the remaining nearby archdiocesan high schools, we can not only retain but improve the Catholic educational experience for all of our students,” McFadden said.

“This undoubtedly will lead to stronger faith formation programs, more competitive academics, improved extracurricular activities and an advanced social environment at the nearby schools. Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic students will be welcomed warmly into our other archdiocesan high schools.”

Although not all the displaced teachers can be guaranteed a job in the remaining Catholic schools, assistance and consideration of such placements will be given where possible.

No decisions have been made regarding the future use of the school buildings.

“The legacy of Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic is the same: they have educated hundreds of thousands of students over the course of their existence,” McFadden said.

“Both of these schools have done an outstanding job in preparing their graduates to have a very successful future. That has been the legacy and will continue to be the legacy of these schools.”

Cardinal Rigali it is the mission of the Church to provide schools that offer a strong, spiritual foundation, a solid academic program and a safe learning environment based on the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“To maintain this mission, we must sometimes make the most difficult decisions in prayerful hope that they lead to a brighter future,” continued the Cardinal.

He said he understood the deep emotions that may be felt by the students, parents, staffs and proud alumni of both Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic upon hearing the news of the closures.

“I extend my deep gratitude to the faculty, staff, administration and men and women religious who have served the Cardinal Dougherty and the Northeast Catholic school communities both now and in the past for their dedication to the students in their care,” said the Cardinal.

“You have given generously of yourselves to advance the faith formation of our young people….

“I will keep everyone affected by these closures in my prayers.”