PATERSON, NJ - St. Mary School on Sherman Avenue, which had 172 elementary and prekindergarten school students last year, is shutting down, according to an announcement issued Monday morning by the Diocese of Paterson.
Diocese officials were hoping to keep the school open if the state Assembly passed a bill to help low-income families pay tuition for parochial schools in some of the state’s poorest communities, according to the press release. But the Assembly did not vote on the bill.
In addition to St. Mary, the diocese also is shutting St. Anthony School in Passaic, which had 130 elementary and pre-kindergarten students.
“Over the past few months, we fought hard for the legislation to be passed in time to provide hope for children and families enrolled for the upcoming school year,” said Schools Superintendent John Eriksen, in the press release. “We made it very clear to state lawmakers that we have two urban schools on the brink. We were hoping a joint effort with government could have kept these schools open. Without this scholarship fund, the money simply isn’t there to keep the schools open. We’re devastated by the news. ”
The closing of St. Mary leaves Paterson with two Catholic schools that remain open - Blessed Sacrament on 6th Avenue and St. Gerard on Carrelton Drive.
"It's always been a pretty good parochial school,'' said Paterson City Council President Anthony Davis, who represents the 1st Ward, where St. Mary was located. "I'm sorry to hear that any school is closing, especially one that was working.''
Davis said he thought the building might make a good location for a charter school.
While diocese officials say they have some hope that state lawmakers will revisit the Opportunity Scholarship Act in November, they are now focusing on the children who need to be placed in new schools by September.
To ease the transition for families in the schools that will be closed, church officials say they it will guarantee acceptance to any of the students who transfer to another parochial school in the diocese. In addition, Diocese officials are identifying parochial schools with similar tuition rates located nearby. Open houses are being scheduled with the families over the next two weeks to identify all options and ensure children can continue their parochial education with minimal impact.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli said the Diocese is creating scholarships for students from St. Anthony’s School, as this closure will leave the City of Passaic without any Catholic schools. Limited financial aid will be available based on need to ensure these students can continue their Catholic education at another Diocesan school this fall.
“The Diocese will not turn its back when these families need us the most,” the Bishop said in the press release. “Even in these financially-trying times, we must do all we can to ensure children throughout the Diocese have equal access to quality Catholic schools, no matter where they may live. We face the same challenges that many of our families face. We must all live within our means and still try to accomplish the greatest amount of good.”
Although the Diocese operates 37 parochial schools throughout suburban and urban communities in three counties, Eriksen said, there has been a concentration on supporting the children of low-income families who have limited opportunities for a Catholic education. He said $10 million has been spent over the past five years on an urban education initiative.
But because the Diocese faces its own financial challenges, there are not enough resources to keep open St. Anthony’s and St. Mary School without significant outside support, officials said.
“We had trusted that state lawmakers would be our partners in helping these at-risk youth achieve a solid education at these two schools,” said Father Paul Manning, diocesan vicar for education. “Sadly, that didn’t happen. We’re now committed to helping these families transition their children to nearby parochial schools as seamlessly as possible.”