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Spotlight Report

A fourth church school to close

Debts blamed at St. Ambrose

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, and Kalimah Redd, Globe Correspondent, 5/6/2003

Citing financial problems that already have forced the closing of three Catholic schools this year, the Archdiocese of Boston announced yesterday that it would shut down yet another: St. Ambrose School in Dorchester.

The elementary school had suffered financial problems for two or more years and could not survive without an additional $200,000 to $500,000 in funding, according to archdiocesan officials and the Rev. Vincent P. Von Euw, the parish pastor. The 81-student school, with grades K-4, will close next month.

''It's like a death,'' Von Euw said. ''The saddest thing is the uprooting of these children. It's terrible; it's still very painful.''

He was proud that the school has welcomed children of different faiths and reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of the Fields Corner neighborhood where it is located, Von Euw said. Nearly 30 percent of the school's population is non-Catholic, he said.

The school also had recently launched a partnership with Fleet Bank, which provided a computer for almost every student. But the bills kept piling up. ''It's a financial disaster,'' Von Euw said. ''The bills are snowballing.''

Earlier this year, the school dropped Grades 5 through 8 to help cope with the financial crisis, forcing families to send their children to one of two other schools.

In the past, the archdiocese helped support the school, but this year the archdiocese had its own financial crisis, Von Euw said.

''An inability to restore the financial viability of the school, coupled with its past indebtedness, makes it impossible to continue the operation of the school,'' Bishop Richard G. Lennon said in a written statement.

Several Catholic schools in Boston have fallen on hard times recently. Officials have cited lagging enrollment, the poor economy, and fallout from the church sexual abuse scandal as reasons for the financial problems. In addition to St. Ambrose, Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School, an all-girls school in Dorchester; St. Joseph's School, a pre-K-through-6 campus in Roxbury; and Charlestown Catholic Elementary School will close at the end of this school year.

Still, archdiocesan officials say they are resolved to continue providing Catholic education. There are currently more than 55,000 students enrolled in 174 Catholic schools in the archdiocese. ''Our ultimate goal is to retain the option for Catholic education in the archdiocese for all who desire it,'' Lennon's statement said.

Church officials said they will help St. Ambrose parents enroll students in nearby schools and said faculty and school employees will be given hiring priority at other archdiocesan schools.

''We are confident that every student can be assisted to transition to another school,'' Sister Kathleen Carr, archdiocesan schools superintendent said in a statement.

Karen Miller, grandmother of a 6-year-old kindergartener at St. Ambrose, called the school's closing heartbreaking.

''These children go to school and make friends, and now they are going to be all swapped around,'' Miller said yesterday.

She praised the school's educators and pointed out that St. Ambrose served a racially-mixed community.

''It's going to leave a big hole in the neighborhood,'' said Miller. ''It's a vibrant place. When children are around, a neighborhood is a neighborhood.''

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 5/6/2003.
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