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Diocese: 5 Catholic schools safe from closure

Our Lady Queen of Apostles School at 2

Our Lady Queen of Apostles School at 2 Saint Johns Pl., Center Moriches, is next to Saint John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church. (Sept. 19, 2012) Credit: Amanda Douville

Five Catholic grammar schools put on a "watch list" when the Diocese of Rockville Centre closed six schools last year appear to be out of danger for now, diocesan officials said.

The diocese said it expects no closings in Nassau and Suffolk this fall. Bishop William Murphy "has been very clear that we did our closings [last year] . . . and that the expectation is that that will be it for a while," said Steven Cheeseman, the diocese's associate superintendent of schools.

But, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said, "there's always the caveat -- we need parents to be committed to Catholic education" to keep the schools open.

"At the end of the day it does come down to enrollment," he said.

No Catholic grammar school on Long Island survives on tuition alone, and all get parish subsidies, Dolan said.

The diocese ordered the five watch-listed schools -- three in eastern Suffolk and two in Nassau -- to collaborate with one another to become more efficient, strengthen their programs and find ways to combine resources.

In Suffolk, those schools are St. Isidore School in Riverhead, Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue, and Our Lady Queen of Apostles Regional School in Center Moriches.

In Nassau, St. Dominic School in Oyster Bay and St. Edward the Confessor School in Syosset received a similar mandate.

Last year's closings provoked a wave of protests among parents and students. Murphy called the decision "one of the most painful parts of my ministry."

The closings were the most extensive in two decades.

Some parents are still upset. "It's still raw. I still in my heart of hearts believe it was not the right decision," said Joseph Malerba, who was a parent leader at St. Ignatius Loyola School in Hicksville. "All it does is open the gate for more Catholic schools to close."

Dolan said "people still hold the resentment. We understand that." But he added, "we're past the animosity. The system is stronger overall because of the closings. We don't have to talk about school closings now."

Cheeseman said the three schools on the East End were told to work together to find ways to share resources, save money, boost enrollment, and enhance their educational and extracurricular offerings.

"We did not set out specific criteria other than we want them to come together and talk and think about ways" to grow, he said. He added that there is also no specific yardstick for enrollment or finances that they need to meet.

The schools have run radio and print ads collectively, coordinated open house events and come together for professional development days, Cheeseman said. They also have joined to offer a track and field program for their younger students.

The collaboration is showing some positive results, Cheeseman said.

Enrollment declines at the East End schools seem to be leveling off.

Our Lady of Mercy in Cutchogue, for instance, had 151 students in K-6 in 2002-03, the diocese said. That number dropped to 99 by 2011-12 and 93 this year. It should remain about the same in the fall, Cheeseman said.

The schools in Riverhead and Center Moriches are expected to see a slight increase in September, while the schools in Nassau received sizable jumps this year, though the diocese said that was mainly from taking in new students from the closed schools.

Enrollment at St. Dominic increased from 208 in 2011-12 to 237 this year and at St. Edward from 145 to 218.

Overall, the number of students in nursery through eighth grade in diocesan schools has fallen from 28,709 in 2000-01 to 17,797 this year. The historic high was about 78,000 students in the 1960s, when there were 92 schools. Today there are 47.

Cheeseman noted the grammar school-age population on Long Island has been declining. The economic recession of 2008 also hit Catholic schools hard, he said.

The principal of the Cutchogue school, Lorraine Delgenio, said she will do just about anything to keep her school open.

She has gone to unusual lengths to promote it.

In 2008, her first year at the school, she climbed to the roof of the one-story building, donned a large Dr. Seuss-style hat, and read his classic "Green Eggs and Ham" to the students gathered on a cold November day. It was the students' and parents' reward for helping to raise $16,000 for new playground equipment.



Enrollment at five 'watch list' Catholic schools on LI



St. Isidore, Riverhead


2002-03: 257

2011-12: 188

2012-13: 183


Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Regional, Center Moriches


2002-03: 278

2011-12: 166

2012-13: 172


Our Lady of Mercy Regional, Cutchogue


2002-03: 151

2011-12: 99

2012-13: 93


St. Edward the Confessor, Syosset


2002-03: 221

2011-12: 145

2012-13: 218


St. Dominic, Oyster Bay


2002-03: 285

2011-12: 208

2012-13: 237

The schools are K-8, except Our Lady of Mercy Regional, which is K-6.

Source: Diocese of Rockville Centre

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