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Schools open again, but for many students, it won’t be at the same school


Cynthia Farmer | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 09/09/20

Pandemic's economic effects have led to many closings across the country.

A two-story brick and stone addition to Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was dedicated last week, as the new school year got underway.

Around the same time, the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Guadalupe was opened in Clinton Township.

These two happy events, though, seem to be going against a national trend. The last six months have not been kind to Catholic education.

Around 150 Catholic schools have shuttered throughout the United States, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the economic slowdown brought on by the pandemic, many parents have been unable to keep up with parochial school tuitions.

The number of closures is at least 50% higher this year than in previous years, Kathy Mears, director of the National Catholic Educational Association, told the New York Times. The number is equal to about 2% of the 6,183 schools that were operating last year.

On the diocesan level, some of the numbers are frightening: this spring, the Archdiocese of New York announced that 20 schools would not reopen in September. In Boston, the archdiocese has had to close nine schools, and about two dozen others are on a “watch list,” the Times reported.

Even in dioceses where the number of schools closing was smaller, the effect on affected students is the same. In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where four schools had to be closed, the archbishop, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, commented, “The cataclysmic effects of this pandemic have left us with no options — which breaks out hearts.”

Even a school that the community worked hard to rebuild after damage by Hurricane Harvey three years ago had to close because of this different kind of storm.

Although the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has had to close only two of its schools, Paul Escala, the superintendent and senior director of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, admitted that the economic challenges are daunting.

“You get to a tipping point where the school may not be able to sustain itself any longer,” he told the Times. “The consequences are going to come, the only question is really when.”

It’s why the students at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School in Sun Prairie, where the addition was just dedicated, should feel blessed.

“Despite the pandemic, the funds for this school project have been given because of the deep commitment of so many to the Catholic faith,” said Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt, recently retired pastor of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, according to the Diocese of Madison’s Catholic Herald. “Future generations will indeed know that this generation truly cares for our faith and the young people entrusted to us.”

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