Families get word on Catholic schools' fate Wed.

Archdiocese expected to announce which schools are closing

March 03, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

For families across the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, months of waiting will come to an end today when officials detail plans to close several schools.

"We are all absolutely worried," said Gil Jasinski, whose 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, attends St. Clare Elementary School in Essex. "I don't understand any of this. Why is the church shutting down these schools, when they should be promoting them?"

Facing rising costs and declining enrollments - challenges confronting parochial schools from the Midwest to the Northeast - the archdiocese is expected to close several of its 64 schools and reorganize the system of 22,700 students.

Principals will learn their schools' fates at a closed-door meeting with archdiocesan officials this morning in Baltimore, and then inform their staffs and prepare letters to send home with children.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien is scheduled to make a public announcement Thursday. He has pledged to offer a space at a new school to every student displaced by a school closing.

Debbie Pell does not consider St. Mark, the Catonsville school where three of her young children study, at risk of closing. But she does wonder whether the school, with solid buildings, strong enrollment and a growing parish, will be asked to absorb children from any neighboring schools that might close.

"I think the archdiocese is trying to restructure to make the school system more robust," Pell said. "I don't see this as a sign the system is faltering, only that it is consolidating its physical resources."

Pauline Greene, whose son is in fourth grade at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Hampden, said the parish school has frequently been the subject of closing rumors.

"It is the heart of Hampden, solvent and has always found a way to stay open," she said. "But a lot of parents are worried that politics will play a role. It's a small school and not as wealthy as or as big as some of the other parishes."

Greene moved recently to Elkridge, but has opted to drive to Hampden rather than transfer her son to a school closer to their new home. She remembers the upheaval she felt decades ago when her own parish school, Ss. Philip and James, closed as part of an earlier reorganization. She had to travel miles to a new middle school, which has long since closed.

"You uproot kids and take them away from schoolmates they have known their whole lives," she said. "We want to keep our son where he has been since pre-school."

Sarah Jasinski started school at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Middle River. When that school closed in 2007, she transferred to St. Clare. Whatever happens now, her father says, he remains committed to Catholic education and will try to keep her in a Catholic school.

"Why can't these schools raise enough money to be self-sufficient?" Gil Jasinski asked.

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