closure a certainty
school officials tried hard to put the best possible face on the
closure of Holy Rosary school, but several of the approximately
100 parents and members of the Claymont Catholic parish who
turned out for an informational meeting weren't in a mood to
accept all their explanations.
"It's the way you
approach the thing. ... I feel we've been disenfranchised," one
man said. Another accused Catherine Weaver, superintendent of
schools for the Diocese of Wilmington, of coming to the meeting
ill-prepared or unwilling to answer legitimate questions. She
offered to respond to any e.mailed questions for which she did
not have the necessary information with her to give an accurate
response at the meeting.
assistant superintendent Louis DeAngelo insisted that Holy
Rosary was not losing its school, but was being given the
opportunity to join with neighboring St. Helena parish to open a
'new' school in which both congregations will share as equal
Weaver said she
"also would be interested in inviting Holy Child [parish] to
join in the process." Holy Child, located on Naamans Road
between Brandywood and Beacon Hill, does not have a school.
Weaver is a parishioner there.
The 'new' school --
to be known as Pope John Paul II Catholic Elementary School --
will open in September and be housed in the building off
Philadelphia Pike near Bellefonte now occupied by St.
It will offer a
program extending from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Present students in both school are guaranteed admission.
teachers will be given the opportunity to be interviewed for
positions in the 'new' one. They also will be considered for
openings elsewhere in the Catholic schools system, Weaver said.
Although an earlier
move to close Holy Rosary school was dropped in face of
opposition, there was no doubt at the meeting on Apr. 14 that it
will happen this time. After more than an hour of discussion,
Weaver said unequivocally: "Pope John Paul II Elementary School
will open in September."
In early 2006 the diocese proposed
closing Holy Rosary school and accepting its students at St.
Helena, but that plan was put aside in favor of an effort to
increase Holy Rosary enrollment to a point where that school
would be financially viable. That apparently was unsuccessful.
"The bishop allowed
us to continue as far as we could go on alone. ... We were
getting more and more into a critical situation," Holy Rosary
pastor Clemens Manista said.
"Two years ago, you
were in a better [financial] position," DeAngelo said. "Finances
and enrollment at Holy Rosary will not permit continuation of
the school. ... St. Helena's financial position was such that
they could have maintained that school."
in Claymont did not develop as we thought they would," Weaver
This time around,
she said, the merger-closure originated with the parishes. "This
is not a diocesan decision," she said. "This is a decision by
both pastors to work together so that children in both parishes
can have a Catholic education. ... They're the ones courageous
enough to make the decision."
that he and St. Helena pastor Stanley Russell agreed on the
arrangement. "It was not imposed on the parishes. ... We didn't
want to have a St. Hedwig situation," he said. Last year, the
diocese closed St. Hedwig school in Wilmington and gave its
students the option of attending St. Matthew school in
Manista said Holy
Rosary school "has been running a deficit for the last five
years [and] could not absorb another deficit for the coming
A meeting attender
objected to the decision having been presented as a fiat
accompli without any parental or parishioner participation.
"If this is what was being planned, why didn't we know about it
two months ago?" he said. The first word Holy Rosary parents
received, he said, was a letter from Manista sent late last
week; other parishioners learned about it from newspaper
Weaver said a
transition team consisting of the two pastors, three parents
from each school and a representative from the diocesan school
office will be formed. In addition, she said, students in both
schools will be "asked to contribute their ideas."
At that point, the
tone of the meeting turned contentious with three attenders
referring to what they said has been a membership decline in
Holy Rosary's congregation. "The management of the church is why
people are leaving," a woman said. "Once the school closes, the
parish is going to close too," a man said. Attenders who spoke
at the meeting were not asked to identify themselves and none
Manista said he has
scheduled a conference with the bishop, Michael Saltarelli, and
is willing to do whatever is necessary "if it best serves the
needs of the parish to make a change."
With 101 students
registered for the 2008-09 academic year by an Apr. 4 deadline,
Holy Rosary school is no longer "sustainable," Weaver said. St.
Helena, with 144 students registered, would be for a while
longer. Combined, they would have slightly more students than
the 225 considered to be the minimum enrollment for a "healthy
school," she said.
However, it was
uncertain whether the present registrations will hold up. Three
attenders at the meeting asked if the deposits they have made
would be refunded. They were told they will be.
distributed at the meeting called for submitting a new
registration by May 2. A year's tuition for members of either
parish whose church donation is at least $550 a year will be
$4,176 for the first child. The rate for non-parishioners will
be $5,124. Somewhat lower tuitions are charged for second and
third children in the same family.
Weaver said that a
general rule-of-thumb in school consolidations is that the
surviving school ends up with between 10% and 15% fewer students
than the combined enrollments. She declined, however, to reveal
an enrollment projection in this situation.
"Rather than talk
about closing, we hope we can focus on what it takes to build
this new school program by working together," she said. "We'll
[also] be reaching out to others in this community who would be
willing to join us."
She said she had
talked to a class of older students and found them enthusiastic.
While students will be permitted to wear their existing uniforms
from their respective schools during the coming year, they asked
to be able to begin establishing a new school identity with
newly designed shirts. They also talked about coming up with
school colors, a mascot and such. A merged athletic program will
be in place by September, she said.
Middle States accreditation both schools now have will be
transferred to the 'new' school and remain in force until it is
time for re-accreditation in 2010.
"We're asking for
your trust that the new school will work," he said.
No one at the
meeting referred specifically to the proposal last year by
American College to buy the now-unused building on the Holy
Rosary campus which formerly housed a conference center and
before that a convent, but Manista said that part of the
property is still available for sale. He said there is no
present plan to dispose of the school building but it is
possible that it will be offered for rent.