and other supporters of Holy Rosary Parochial School
have been given a year's reprieve to work with their
counterparts in neighboring St. Helena Parish to
come up with a plan for a Catholic elementary school
to serve eastern Brandywine Hundred.
Pastor Clemens Manista told a
meeting of about 200 concerned people -- mostly Claymont
residents -- that he and St. Helena pastor Stanley Russell
were instructed by Bishop Michael Saltarelli to form a joint
committee in hopes of producing an amicable alternative to
his previous order to shut down both parishes' schools and
open a 'new' one in the present St. Helena school building
By backing away from the
original idea, the bishop pushed back the effective date of
the merger from the start of the next academic year to
"We realize the merger is
going to happen, [but] we would prefer to have the [school]
site here," said Pam Coupe, one of the organizers of the
meeting on Feb. 15.
"Hopefully we can come up
with a plan over the next several months to convince the
diocese we are the best site," said Principal Denise Jacono.
Priority should be given, however, to determining "what's
best for the children," she added.
The postponement was
announced indirectly to the meeting through a few advance
copies of the Dialog, the official diocesan newspaper. No
one represented the diocese at the meeting and Mnista did
not participate except to tell about the joint committee in
response to a question about "the path going forward" near
the end of the meeting.
That was in sharp contrast to
what happened at a 'mandatory' meeting of Holy Rosary
parents a week earlier, according to Lisa McCarthy,
president of the Holy Rosary Home and School Association.
Then, she said, diocesan school superintendent James Malone
presented the merger as a fait accompli, with several
details already set.
Generally declining Catholic
school enrollment, here and elsewhere in the nation, which
particularly affects schools in older areas, along with
rising costs were cited as motivation for the planned
The 'new' school would be
named for the late pope, John Paul II, he reportedly said.
Teachers from both the existing schools would have to apply
to teach there and "efforts would be made to place" those
who did not get jobs. There was no indication what tuition
would be charged.
That meeting, she said. was
closed to other parishioners and the community. There had
been prior rumors of something like that happening, but no
Lieutenant Governor John
Carney, who grew up in the parish and graduated from Holy
Rosary school, said the bishop's backing off was "a big win
right up front." He urged meeting attenders and others to
"work respectfully with the diocese" while bearing in mind
that "the diocese is not really a democracy."
Carney headed a cast of
influentials at the meeting. State representatives Robert
Valihura and Diana McWilliams and County Councilman John
Cartier pledged their support for efforts to keep open the
Holy Rosary school.
Noting that a 'grassroots
effort' sidetracked proposed state legislation having to do
with stem-cell research, Valihura said, "You have it within
your power to change things. We will be there to help you."
"This is not the time for the
Catholic diocese to walk away from the Claymont community,"
Brett Saddler, president of
Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., said that, if the
planned redevelopment of Claymont is to succeed, "it is
essential that Holy Rosary [school] remain here." The
planned 1,200-unit residential and commercial community on
the site of the Brookview apartments complex will "bring in
families that can afford to send their children" to
non-public schools in sufficient number to easily offset
He said that he and some
lawmakers have arranged to take that message to Saltarelli
in person. They also are concerned with disposal of the
Children's Home site on Green Street, which several
developers reportedly are bidding to buy, he said.
"This will be a full school
in a few years -- just hold tight," Saddler said.
Holy Rosary currently has 233
students in kindergarten through eighth grade, which is
about half its rated capacity. Tuition is about $3,000 a
Jacono urged parents of
current Holy Rosary students to resist "a feeling they have
to run out the door at this point."
Noting that having eight
students who live in Pennsylvania enrolled entitles Holy
Rosary to receive $1,000 a year from the commonwealth for
textbooks. she said the diocese is going to make an effort
"to convince our legislature to support us in ways that do
not violate our Constitution."
Although Coupe maintained
that the effort to keep Holy Rosary school open by having
the 'new' school put there was not intended to alienate its
participants from either the diocese or St. Helena Parish,
the tone of much of the meeting was akin to a rally.
"We want no animosity, [but]
we will not bail out on this school," she said.
The theme was set by a
students-produced Power Point presentation depicting a wide
range of scholastic, sports and other activities at the
Dave McCarthy presented
several figures that contrasted Holy Rosary and St. Helena
schools. Except for lacking a gymnasium, having an
older boiler and needing some roof repairs, Holy Rosary came
out ahead in the comparison.
Among other things, he said,
the Holy Rosary building is larger and can accommodate a
combined enrollment with room to spare while St. Helena
would require use of classroom trailers. The parish subsidy
needed to finance operations is lower at Holy Rosary as is
the cost per student. Moreover, Holy Rosary has 13 acres of
unused property and a former convent now used as a retreat
house which could be sold if necessary to finance a larger
St. Helena's enrollment is
178, the lowest of any of the 25 schools in the diocese,
according to the Dialog article.
Holy Rosary school opened in
1950 with 80 students under the aegis of Ursuline nuns.
Today, like most Catholic schools, its faculty is comprised
Jacono told the meeting that
the decision to combine Holy Rosary and St. Helena schools
came out of a 'steering committee' Saltarelli formed in
2003. She served on the committee, which functioned out of
public view. It hired a consulting firm to study the
diocesan school system in detail and formulate
recommendations, she said.
She said she made it a point
to furnish the consultants information on the movement to
revitalize Claymont but added, "how far it got, I don't
A school to serve both
parishes -- and possibly Holy Child Parish, which
serves northwest and north-central Brandywine Hundred but
does not have a parochial school -- follows a pattern used
by the diocese in recent years. Regional elementary schools
in the Glasgow area and in Berlin, Md., which is included in
the diocese's jurisdiction, each serve several parishes.