It's really last day at some Catholic schools

Tracy Bryant, left, of Sayville and Marguerite Hachem, Tracy Bryant, left, of Sayville and Marguerite Hachem, of Holtsville, embrace after their childrens' last day at Prince of Peace Regional Catholic School in Sayville. Prince of Peace is one of the schools that the diocese has decided to close. (Jun. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Jacqueline Connor

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At Prince of Peace Regional School in Sayville, Wednesday morning didn't feel like the typical last day of school before summer vacation.

For this school, it really wasthe last day. Forever.

Prince of Peace, with classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade, is one of six Catholic schools on Long Island that close for good this week. And as parents, students and faculty arrived for their final day, the mood was somber.

"You're telling your kids they are not coming back in September," principal Jane Harrigan said from the school parking lot as she handed out tissues for drying tears. "The usual jubilation of summer vacation is not there."

The closings -- announced in December by the Diocese of Rockville Centre after an 18-month study -- are designed to consolidate and strengthen its education system in the face of declining enrollment, officials said.

Officials said they hope to avoid any more closings for at least the next four to five years.

In addition to Prince of Peace, one other Suffolk County school is closing: Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst. The four Nassau schools to close are: St. John Baptist De LaSalle Regional School, Farmingdale; St. Catherine of Sienna, Franklin Square; St. Ignatius Loyola, Hicksville; and Sacred Heart School, North Merrick.

Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said the church's most recent studies indicate 79 percent of about 1,000 K-8 students from the closing schools have registered in another Catholic school. He added that they have signed up in 29 different Catholic schools in the diocese.

For at least one Prince of Peace family, the closing is not an entirely foreign experience.

Stefanie Belluardo, 44, of Holtsville, remembers her Catholic school, Maria Regina Diocesan High School in Uniondale, closing when she was younger. Her daughter, Genna, just finished sixth grade and will spend just one year at the school, after transferring from the Sachem school district.

"We would do it all over again, just to meet the same people we've met," Stefanie Belluardo said. "It's a family."

She described the mood of the students and parents Wednesday as "like a funeral."

For Genna, there's the challenge next fall of new friends, new surroundings.

"I have to start it all over again," she said. "I met new friends this year, and now I have to leave them again."

At St. John Baptist De LaSalle, Susan Tower said she will be sending her two children to Holy Family in Hicksville "as a trial" in the fall.

"It's already a sacrifice to pay," said Tower, of Farmingdale. "And now it's doubly hard, because it's so far away."

With Bart Jones

and Gary Dymski

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