Due to declining enrollment and significant pandemic-related financial strain, three Catholic schools on Long Island won’t be reopening next month as they have closed permanently, according to the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The schools affected are Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson, Saint Peter of Alcantara School in Port Washington, and Holy Family Regional School in Commack.
“Unfortunately, the enrollment decline combined with the impact of COVID-19 on both parish offertory collections and tuition collections, and fundraising efforts, has made it clear that it is not feasible to maintain these schools financially,” said Sean P. Dolan, spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Due to small class sizes, many Catholic schools rely on parish funds to stay afloat. For Our Lady of Wisdom School, its four supporting parishes are expected to contribute 45 percent of the school’s operating budget, or around $475,000, per year.
But with churches unable to conduct Mass services in person, offertory revenue has taken a nosedive. St. James R.C. Church in East Setauket, one of the four supporting parishes of Our Lady of Wisdom, reported a $85,000 deficit so far in 2020.
“We are deeply saddened by the closings of these three elementary schools,” Dolan said.
Competition from local public and private secular schools was also a major factor, church officials said.
“Changing demographics and increased competition from public and secular private schools have contributed to ongoing declines in Catholic school enrollment nationwide,” a statement from the Diocese of Rockville Center read.
At Holy Family Regional, the last five years have brought an enrollment drop of 43 percent to 139 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, while at Our Lady of Wisdom, enrollment for kindergarten through eighth grade dropped 37 percent to 66 students over the same time period. At St. Peter of Alcantara School, enrollment drops were even more drastic: 52 percent to 99 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
All three schools have a long history of supporting LI students. St. Peter of Alcantara has been in operation since 1925, while Our Lady of Wisdom has been open since 1938. Holy Family Regional, formerly known as Christ the King school, has served Commack-region students for more than 50 years.
In a bid for survival, many LI Catholic schools have regionalized over their history, covering a wider geographic area with multiple parishes. Our Lady of Wisdom reached students from Sound Beach to Port Jefferson to Setauket, while Holy Family Regional served students from Kings Park, Hauppauge, Dix Hills, and Commack.
For families blindsided by the closures, choosing a new school in the middle of a pandemic may be overwhelming. The Diocese of Rockville Centre continues to operate 35 Catholic elementary schools across the Island and has set up a hotline for parents of students at the three closed schools.
“Please know that Holy Family Regional students will be warmly welcomed into any of the excellent Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre,” a statement from the pastors of the Holy Family Regional affiliated parishes read.
For some families, however, the closures may mean transitioning their children to public or secular private school for good.
Officials at the three schools’ supporting parishes, the Parishes of St. Gerard Majella, Infant Jesus, St. James, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Matthew, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, Christ the King, and St. Peter of Alcantara could not be reached for comment.