At Least 24 Archdiocese Schools Appeal Closings

By Martha Woodall
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 5, 2012

Kathy McGill and daughter Kate, a St. Hubert's student, with a sign to raise funds…

At the "Brown & Gold Night" fund-raiser for St. Hubert's are grads…

The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia fighting proposed closings and mergers have held candlelight vigils, organized rallies and marches, and served up spaghetti dinners.

As part of their fund-raising campaigns, they have created Facebook pages, set up Twitter accounts, and sold everything from T-shirts to hair tinsel in school colors.

They also have made presentations with enrollment data and financial projections to archdiocesan officials.

Now, they await word of their fates.

Nearly half the 49 schools targeted for closure challenged a blue-ribbon commission's recommendations. They will find out mid-February whether their efforts and formal appeals persuaded Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to spare them.

"We're cautiously optimistic, but we have no idea what is going to happen," said Kathryn Ott Lovell, a 1992 graduate of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls and a member of the school's board of advisers.

On Thursday night, the school in Holmesburg sold St. Hubert's merchandise in the cafeteria. The $8,781 raised at "Brown & Gold Night" boosted the Save St. Hubert's campaign total to $768,397.

On Wednesday - which happened to be the middle of Catholic Schools Week - was the deadline for schools to file appeals. The archdiocese won't say how many did.

"We are not releasing the number of appeals that were made," said Kenneth Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "Even though the appeal meetings are over, no final decisions have been announced. Everything is under review."

An Inquirer survey found that, of the 45 Catholic elementary schools slated to be closed in June and consolidated with other schools, at least 21 filed appeals. Many schools set to be the site of mergers appealed as well.

Some elementary-school principals did not respond to phone calls or declined to comment.

Three of the four targeted high schools filed challenges. Only West Catholic did not.

The appeals poured in after the commission's recommendations were announced Jan. 6 for restructuring Catholic education in the five-county archdiocese. Because plans call for renaming and altering the combined schools, the recommendations affect 81 elementary schools - nearly half of the 156 open now.

On the day of the announcement, Chaput said that, while he had faith in the commission, he would review cases in which schools believed decisions were based on incorrect information.

One panel handled the elementary-school reviews, and another heard the high school challenges. The panels included representatives from the Office of Catholic Education and the 16-member commission. They will forward information to Chaput.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chaput's predecessor, established the commission in late 2010 to examine plummeting enrollment and widening deficits and to recommend a plan to ensure a strong future for Catholic education.

Schools were told that appeals should point out factual errors and should address the long-term challenges to their financial stability.

"The biggest issue is being able to show a plan for sustainability - not just in the immediate future or for the next two years, but for the long term," the archdiocese said in an updated statement on the appeals process.

During a Jan. 24 appeal, representatives from St. Laurentius in Fishtown pointed out that the neighborhood was attracting young families and that its enrollment was rising.

The current enrollment of 237 students is a 12 percent increase from 2010 figures the commission used. With the growth, the school's building is now at 83 percent capacity, not the 74 percent in the commission's report.

In Bucks County, St. John the Baptist in Ottsville said its appeal would stress the marketing, fund-raising, and public-relations components in the school's strategic plan.

St. John the Baptist made its presentation Jan. 24. The Rev. Simione Volavola, the pastor, declined comment while the parish waited for the archbishop's decision.

Besides St. Hubert, the commission called for closing three other high schools: Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast, Drexel Hill; Conwell-Egan, Fairless Hills; and West Catholic.

Bonner/Prendergast has raised $1.4 million toward its ultimate goal of $5 million to keep the school open. Conwell-Egan set a goal of $2.7 million.

West Catholic's president, Brother Timothy Ahern, said West did not challenge the recommendation because it could not dispute the facts. And the archdiocese, he said, had made it clear that no appeal could be made on "sentiment and nostalgia."

"It was not because I didn't care about West Catholic," Ahern said Friday. "I just figured I'm not going to dangle false hope."

West has a storied, 96-year history, but its enrollment of 360 students is the smallest of any of the archdiocese's 17 high schools. And the number of students has been declining for the last several years as area parish schools closed.

West, Ahern said, also would have needed to raise $1.5 million in the short term to operate properly and would have had to guarantee being able to raise similar amounts in coming years.

"We don't want to just postpone the inevitable," he said.

Amid the pain and sadness, West is working to help students find spots at other archdiocesan high schools for the fall. Ahern said several were interested in Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast, and they hoped that the school's appeal was successful.

Six years ago, a whirlwind campaign raised $260,000 in 63 days to keep St. Cyril of Alexandria in East Lansdowne open. Sister Barbara Ann Montague, the principal, is optimistic that her school will prevail again - even though its presentation to the archdiocese fell on Friday, Jan. 13.

"What a day to have it," Montague said. But "we felt it went well. We felt the diocese listened to our concerns."

The head of St. Cyril's development committee discussed the fund-raising efforts. The presentation also stressed that if the school with 205 children from prekindergarten through eighth grade closed, there would be no Catholic elementary schools in that part of Delaware County.

Monica Malseed, principal of Holy Saviour-St. John Fisher in Linwood, said her school had not appealed the recommendation to merge with St. Joseph in Aston.

"This is really hard, especially for third-generation students," she said Friday. "But we are pragmatists. We understand that the cost of education, declining enrollments, changing values, a shrinking parish, all of these things are contributing to an ineffective education. You can't keep cutting programs. Teachers are doing more with less. We are heartbroken, but we'll go forward."

She said plans called for the new consolidated school to be named Holy Family Regional School.

Catholic Schools That Are Appealing Archdiocesan Plan

Elementary Schools *

Bucks County


Holy Trinity, Morrisville

St. John the Baptist, Ottsville

St. Mark, Bristol

St. Michael the Archangel, Levittown

Open, merging

Our Lady of Grace, Penndel

St. Ephrem, Bensalem

Chester County

No known appeals

Delaware County


St. Cyril of Alexandria, East Lansdowne

St. Francis de Sales, Aston

Open, merging

St. Andrew, Drexel Hill

St. Thomas the Apostle, Glen Mills

Montgomery County


Conshohocken Catholic (1-8), Conshohocken

Immaculate Conception B.V.M., Jenkintown



Holy Cross

Our Lady of Consolation

Our Lady of Ransom

St. Bridget

St. George

Open, merging

St. Cecilia



Annunciation B.V.M.

Epiphany of Our Lord

Holy Spirit

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

St. Gabriel

St. Laurentius

St. Malachy

Open, merging

St. Thomas Aquinas

High Schools


Conwell-Egan, Fairless Hills

Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast, Drexel Hill

St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, Philadelphia

Liz Gormisky, Kevin Smith,

and Monika Zaleska



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