Bishop Matthew H. Clark has determined that St. Ann School in Hornell will close this June after 149 years of service to the western Steuben County area.
The announcement was made in a letter to parents dated April 6. It was signed by Father Peter Anglaaere, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish, and Anne Willkens Leach, diocesan superintendent of schools.
"This decision was painful for all concerned, but was based on an honest assessment of enrollment and cost projections, and the effect those factors might have on the financial health of the parish going forward," the letter stated. "While we greatly appreciate and are grateful to those who generously donated money to see the school through, the amount raised is not enough to ensure the long-term viability of the school."
"I’m sure the bishop prayed long and hard. It’s difficult for the bishop and all of us," Willkens Leach told the Catholic Courier April 9. "But you need to make the school (financially) stable enough for the parish to be sustained and that wasn’t going to happen."
She noted that the St. Ann community underwent a vigorous fundraising campaign following Father Anglaaere’s announcement Feb. 16 that he was recommending closure of the school to Bishop Clark. Willkens Leach said a total of $93,000 was raised but $250,000 would have been needed to keep St. Ann open past the 2011-12 school year.
Declining attendance and financial shortfalls have considerably hampered the school in recent years, and it narrowly avoided closure in 2009-10 thanks to a successful fundraising drive at that time. However, Father Anglaaere said in February 2012 that the school’s current 100-student enrollment included only 65 youths in kindergarten through sixth grade. That’s an average of fewer than 10 children per grade, whereas diocesan recommendations call for at least 15 students in each grade.
St. Ann’s impending closure will leave All Saints Academy in Corning as the only remaining Catholic school in Steuben County.
The April 6 letter from Father Anglaaere and Willkens Leach noted that the 5:15 Mass at St. Ann Church on Tuesday, April 10, will be used as an opportunity for hope and healing.
"Words are not sufficient to express our gratitude to (Principal) Lisa Dirlam, the teachers and staff, the school families and the children, all of whom have brightened our lives and showed remarkable energy and dedication. They are an inspiration to us all," the letter added.