School's Alumni Vow To Fight

Demonstrations, Meetings, Possible Lawsuit Mentioned In Wake Of Towson Catholic's Closing

July 10, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

The Towson Catholic High School alumni have vowed to fight the abrupt closing of their alma mater with rallies, an awareness campaign and even a possible lawsuit.

Organizers plan a peaceful demonstration at 8:30 a.m. Sunday at Immaculate Conception Church in an effort to inform parishioners attending Mass of what has happened to the school that has been part of the church's life since 1922. They will stand silently on the roadside with signs.

Alumni, parents and students are also being urged to gather at the school at 7 p.m. Tuesday for what will be the third demonstration since the closing was announced this week.

"At first, we called it a vigil to say goodbye and show our lasting love for the school, but it has become a rally to show support," said Mike Boehm, a 1997 graduate. "We are not letting this school close without trying to do something."

Wendy Gelhaus, Class of 2007, has started a "Revive TC" blog campaign that seeks signatures for a petition to stop the closing of the school and is also meeting with area businesses to ask for their support. She and her grandmother, Joan Slater, who recently celebrated her 50th TC reunion, plan to attend the vigil Tuesday.

Gelhaus said she has found an attorney willing to file an injunction blocking the closing.

"It is an uphill battle, but he sees the passion we have," she said.

Faced with declining enrollment and a $650,000 deficit, the pastor, Monsignor F. Dennis Tinder, announced Tuesday that the school would close immediately, stunning faculty who will soon be unemployed and families who are scrambling to find spaces for their children in other parochial schools.

"I am still hoping there is some way to keep TC open, but I am looking at other schools," said Hannah Messina, a rising senior. "They have not left us with much time."

Many alumni criticized Tinder, who, they said, never reached out to them for help. As late as last month, the pastor had told a recently pared-down school staff that Towson Catholic would open in the fall. But when enrollment dropped by 81 students and the school was not able to recoup $160,000 in unpaid tuition, Tinder said, through a spokesman for the archdiocese, that he had no choice.

"We feel we were sucker-punched in the way this was handled," said Paul A. Mecinski, president of the alumni association. "We were not told the facts in a timely manner and given an opportunity to help. If we knew the school was in this kind of trouble, we would have come to its aid."

C. Gus Grason II, a 1967 graduate and former TC teacher, coach and assistant principal, recalled that enrollment dropped in 1987 by nearly 300 students to 120, but no one mentioned shutting down then.

He attributed the closing to "administrational neglect" and asked in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun: "Wasn't the institution that had served the community for 87 years worth the effort?"

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