St. John Bosco School closes

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    08.24.2007
Category: Finger Lakes


St. John Bosco School in Seneca Falls will not reopen for the 2007-08 school year, according to a letter from Bishop Matthew H. Clark to parish officials at St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls and St. Mary Parish in Waterloo. The Diocese of Rochester also distributed the letter to all affected parents.

The school had been stable with an enrollment of more than 100 students at the end of the 2006-07 school year, but a persistent rumor about the school's status apparently caused many parents to withdraw their children and enroll them elsewhere, said Father James Fennessy, pastor of St. Patrick and St. Mary parishes, which clustered in June.

"The situation developed to the point where there weren't enough students to financially or academically continue the school. There was no other course of action," Father Fennessy told the Catholic Courier.

"I am sorry to learn that a steep decline in enrollment this summer was caused by what seems to have been an irrational and infectious fear that the school might close before September," Bishop Clark's letter states. "Though again and again we assured principal and students it would not close, one by one students were withdrawn until there are barely enough students now to fill a single classroom."

"This is a very odd situation where this rumor became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was just so sudden and precipitous and unnecessary," noted diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro.

Diocesan officials are contacting parents of enrolled preschool students to determine if there is enough interest to keep the preschool open this year.

St. John Bosco School was formed at the end of the 2004-05 school year by the merger of St. Mary School in Waterloo and St. Patrick School in Seneca Falls. The merged school opened in the former St. Patrick school building.

The closing of St. John Bosco School leaves Seneca County without a Catholic school. Bishop Clark is well aware of this situation, Mandelaro said, and hopes the school eventually may be reopened.

"The survival of Catholic education in Seneca County is of such concern to me that I would like to propose that we evaluate the possibility of re-growing St. John Bosco School," Bishop Clark wrote in his letter.

Also in the letter, Bishop Clark suggested that the diocesan Catholic Schools Office work with the St. Patrick and St. Mary pastoral councils to determine whether there is a desire for re-establishing Catholic education in the county.

Although it is too soon to tell how such a desire would be determined, Mandelaro said surveys and evaluations would most likely be used. Officials also may look at the number of former St. John Bosco students who enroll at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, using that figure as a gauge of residents' continuing interest in Catholic education, Mandelaro said.

"If there is interest and support, then I recommend that a strategic plan be developed with the preschool as the foundation for slowly rebuilding a Catholic school grade by grade," Bishop Clark wrote in his letter.

Father Fennessy discussed the school's closing in a letter that was to be inserted into parish bulletins the weekend of Aug. 17-18.

"In the letter I state to people that I'd be glad to talk to individuals or groups of people about what has happened, but I would also like to talk to people about where do we go from here. I want their ideas. Exactly how we progress from here is not based solely on what I think," Father Fennessy said.

"I'm going to listen to the people, and we'll work together," he continued. "If this is what they want, then we'll work towards that, but if they don't, then we won't. What do we do from here? What happened has happened, and I can't change that. Where do we go from here?"

In the meantime, families are scrambling to decide where to send their children for the 2007-08 school year. As of Aug. 16, five families already had begun to register their children at St. Francis-St. Stephen School, and at least one other family was considering it, said Elaine Morrow, principal of the Geneva school.

"I really admire their strong support of Catholic education," she remarked.

Morrow said that many parents came to her early in the summer when they first heard rumors about St. John Bosco closing. These parents wanted to be loyal to St. John Bosco, but were concerned their children would be left in the lurch if the school closed over the summer, she said. Morrow encouraged these parents to keep their children enrolled at St. John Bosco, but reassured them they would have options if their school closed.

"If the school closes, which was kind of the rumor for weeks and weeks ... should something happen, you are most welcome," Morrow said she told parents.

The Geneva school already had some students from Waterloo and Seneca Falls, she said, noting that the Waterloo and Seneca Falls public-school districts have been very good about providing bus transportation for these students.

Anne Smith is among the St. John Bosco parents now considering sending her children to St. Francis-St. Stephen.

"As a parent of three young children that attended St. John Bosco School, it saddens me that they will not be able to continue their Catholic education in the community in which we live. St. John Bosco School in Seneca Falls was a wonderful environment where children experienced excellence in education and spirituality," Smith wrote in an e-mail message to the Catholic Courier. "In a time where it is critical to have a Catholic education available to our children where we live, it's unfortunate that Seneca County will no longer have a Catholic school in its community."

Smith and her husband are both graduates of the former St. Mary School, and their families have strongly supported Catholic education for decades. But now they are unsure what the future will hold, she said.

She reserved judgment on Bishop Clark's suggestion that the diocese and parish evaluate the possibility of regrowing St. John Bosco School. "Now that we have experienced two Catholic-school closings in our community, I guess we will have to wait and see," Smith wrote.

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