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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese cites low enrollment in closings

By Anand Vaishnav and Douglas Belkin, Globe Staff, 3/15/2002

Three Catholic schools in Boston and Cambridge will close in June because of declining enrollments, Archdiocese of Boston school officials said yesterday. None of the closings, they said, are linked to the ongoing sex abuse scandal in the Archdiocese, which is forcing diocesan officials to consider selling property to finance settlements with victims.

Students at two of the schools, St. Clare High School in Roslindale and Most Precious Blood School in Hyde Park, will have to find schools by September, said Sister Kathleen Carr, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese. Children at a third Catholic school, St. John The Evangelist School in Cambridge, are being ''transitioned'' to nearby St. Catherine School in Somerville, she said.

The high school is run by the archdiocese; the other two schools are run by their respective parishes.

Catholic schools nationwide have confronted shrinking enroll ments. Some of the schools set to close have had declining student counts for years, Carr said. ''It's pretty painful. It was a very sad day for me yesterday to have to sit down with these folks,'' she said.

Although Carr said the schools will not be sold to generate money for legal settlements, parents said they are suspicious. Donna Gaskins of Dorchester, whose granddaughter is a sophomore at St. Clare, said she can't understand why the school would suddenly shut down. ''They have fine teachers. It's a fine school. I just think it's like a coverup,'' Gaskins said. ''That's just the way I feel.''

But Carr said the building will be rented to other Catholic schools. ''There are no plans to sell it off. I made that very clear to teachers in view of what's been in the papers,'' Carr said.

St. Clare has been the focus of a five-year marketing effort to help schools with declining enrollments, Carr said. Despite aggressive recruiting, the school has just 180 girls in grades 9-12. Fifteen years ago, enrollment stood at 450, the ideal size, Carr said. ''There's plenty of literature out there that would build a very strong case for all-girl schools,'' Carr said. ''But if you look at it from a demographic perspective, you're only drawing on 50 percent of the population. And the other schools in that area also are drawing on that 50 percent. At a certain point, they're drawing on the same limited pool for a freshman class.''

Enrollment among the archdiocese's 177 schools is up slightly this year to 57,000, Carr said.

News of St. Clare's closing was announced yesterday to students, who wept and prayed. Sophomore Diondra Bartlett, Gaskins's granddaughter, said students plan to raise funds on their own to save the school. ''We don't want to see the school destroyed,'' said Bartlett, in her first year at the school. ''We still have hope.''

At Most Precious Blood, enrollment is about 130, down from 200 last year, Carr said. The school is expected to rent its facilities, she said.

Annemarie Harrington, secretary at Most Precious Blood, said the principal told her last week that the century-old school - which used to be called St. Raphael's School and is Mayor Thomas M. Menino's alma mater - was shutting down because of enrollment problems. ''When I heard, I cried,'' Harrington said. ''I am very attached to this school. I've been involved in it one way or another my whole life, as a student, a parent, a volunteer, and now as a secretary. It's a very personal thing to me, but you have to face reality: Things can't go on forever. God closes one door and opens another.''

The school had planned a meeting last night to inform parents of their options.

St. John The Evangelist had an enrollment of 167, Carr said. Students are being moved almost immediately to nearby St. Catherine, she said.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/15/2002.
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