Five archdiocesan elementary schools to close at end of year

Five archdiocesan elementary schools will close at the end of the 2013-14 school year due to low enrollment.

The schools are Immaculate Heart of Mary School and St. John the Baptist School, both in south St. Louis; St. Richard School in Creve Coeur; St. Joseph School in Bonne Terre and Sacred Heart School in Ozora.

Alan Winkelmann, associate superintendent of elementary school administration, noted that the Catholic Education Center has been working with the schools to identify other Catholic education options for students.

Another priority is working to help find employment for principals, teachers and staff who have lost their jobs as a result of the closings. "We have a special list for those who have closed a school or lost their position," he said. "Our personnel office is working with them to find other employment."

Sacred Heart School in Ozora

Located in Ste. Genevieve County, Sacred Heart School this year had an enrollment of 15 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with middle-school-age students primarily attending Valle Catholic Grade School in Ste. Genevieve. Sacred Heart Parish and School was founded in 1898. For years, the school was staffed by the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, and most recently was staffed by two lay teachers and principal Sister Agnes Marie Keena, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In January, the pastor, Father James Schaefer, sent a letter to Archbishop Robert Carlson recommending closure.

"The decision to close our school was most difficult," the priest wrote in a letter included in the parish bulletin in late January. "Our hearts were saying one thing, but the facts were very evident for closing."

For the past 10 years, the school had seen a decline in enrollment from 28 to 15 children. Father Schaefer noted in his letter that projected enrollment for the 2014-15 school year would likely be fewer than a dozen students. "From our baptismal records for the last five years, we have had only one child from our parish who could possibly attend Sacred Heart School," he added.

Financing the school initially was not a major problem, said Father Schaefer, who cited three sources of income: the support of the parish; tuition, some of which includes grant funding; and Home and School fundraisers. As enrollment continued to decrease, the school was becoming more and more dependent on grants. "Students and tuition are our survival," Father Schaefer wrote. "The expenses would hardly increase even if we doubled the enrollment, and the cost per student would be cut in half."

Many students are expected to continue their Catholic education at Valle Catholic Grade School or St. Joseph School in Zell.

St. Joseph School in Bonne Terre

St. Joseph Parish in Bonne Terre was founded in 1873 and opened its school in 1882. It's located in St. Francois County, which historically has had a very small Catholic population, according to pastor Father William Baier. The school has closed and reopened several times over the years.

During the 2013-14 school year, student enrollment was 17 in kindergarten through fifth grades. Older students from the parish primarily have attended public schools, with several others going to nearby St. Joseph School in Farmington. The staff includes one part-time and three full-time teachers, with one of them also serving as principal.

Father Baier said that enrollment has continued to decline over the years and the parish's ability to subsidize the school also has decreased, placing a financial strain on the parish and school families. The parish council, finance council and school board met in February to discuss enrollment and finances and projected a $54,000 deficit for the 2014-15 school year. By March, a recommendation to close was sent to Archbishop Carlson.

Parish families are being encouraged to attend neighboring Catholic schools, including Valle in Ste. Genevieve and St. Joseph in Farmington.

"I had hoped we would continue our school for many years to come," Father Baier wrote in a letter to parishioners in the parish bulletin. "However, it is now necessary for our parish to move forward in hope. Know that I remain committed to making sure that our children are educated in our faith and to ensuring that St. Joseph Parish grows to be a vibrant community of faith that is alive in Christ Jesus."

St. Richard School in Creve Coeur

St. Richard School in Creve Coeur announced in April that it will close at the end of the school year. The school currently has 92 students enrolled and was projecting an enrollment of approximately 63 students for next year.

Pastor Father Charles Burgoon noted that the area in which St. Richard is located is only 13 percent Catholic, with a small percentage of families with young children. The area also includes a large population of Jewish households and industrial development. When he was assigned to the parish eight years ago, Father Burgoon said that enrollment was at about 125 students. He cited an increase in expenses, with $1.8 million spent on the school over the past five years.

"It's a good school with good kids, good parents and good teachers," he said. "We just don't have the funds anymore to do it."

St. Richard will remain part of the Central County Catholic Schools: Partners in Mission, a collaboration of parish schools in the central St. Louis County area, including Holy Spirit in Maryland Heights; Our Lady of the Pillar, St. Monica and St. Richard in Creve Coeur and Ste. Genevieve du Bois in Warson Woods. The collaborative was formed in 2012 to enhance the quality of the religious and academic education at each school and also market Catholic education to potential families in the area. A number of St. Richard students are expected to attend schools that are part of the collaborative.

Father Burgoon noted that St. Richard also resides in three good public school districts -- Ladue, Parkway and Pattonville -- yet many families chose to send their children to St. Richard. "That's a tribute to the parents, who have placed a value on Catholic education."

Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. John the Baptist Schools in south St. Louis

St. John the Baptist and Immaculate Heart of Mary -- two of the schools that are part of the South City Planning Committee -- will close at the end of this school year. They will remain part of the collaborative's planning efforts. Other parishes in the collaborative include Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Ambrose, St. James the Greater, St. Joan of Arc, St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Raphael the Archangel and St. Stephen Protomartyr parishes.

The two schools had been meeting since early 2013 to discuss the issues and challenges facing the schools in the region and to consider various models for collaboration that will sustain quality Catholic education for the long term. The group studied financial and enrollment forecasts and related data and results of surveys of parishioners and school parents. The effort is aimed at a revitalization of Catholic education in south St. Louis.

Enrollment this year at Immaculate Heart of Mary School is 111, and at St. John the Baptist it is 126.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish was created in 1951 and the school was dedicated along with the new church in 1954. The school had opened in the fall of 1953 with an enrollment of 400 and with the School Sisters of Notre Dame on staff. The parish was created to relieve overcrowded conditions in neighboring parishes. In 1964, the school enrollment was 923.

St. John the Baptist needed to raise $250,000 by Dec. 31, 2012, to help pay for a projected budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year. The school met its goal with an impressive effort by staff, parents, parishioners and school alumni. It was announced in January that the school would be open for this school year. Enrollment at the school, in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, has been affected over the years because of demographic and economic changes.

St. John the Baptist Parish was founded in 1914, and the parish elementary school opened that same year with 235 students and was staffed by the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon. By 1964, enrollment was more than 1,000 students. A parish high school began in 1922 and remained open until 2008.

Joseph Kenny contributed information to this story.

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