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Diocese: Bishop McGann-Mercy closing due to low enrollment

The Riverhead school shuts down in June and two East End elementary schools will merge into St. John Paul II Regional School.

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead will close

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead will close in June 2018, the Diocese of Rockville Centre said on Monday, March 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Peter Dilauro

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead will close, and two Catholic elementary schools also on the East End will merge into one, the Diocese of Rockville Centre said Monday.

The diocese-run high school, which received millions of dollars in subsidies over the last decade and has only 55 students registered for the incoming freshman class, will close in June, Bishop John Barres said in a statement.

Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue and St. Isidore School in Riverhead will merge into one school, to be located on the St. Isidore site and to be called St. John Paul II Regional School. It will serve nursery through 8th grade.

Diocesan officials cited declining enrollment and increasing subsidies in taking what it called a “heartbreaking” decision to close or merge the schools. It is the first major shake-up in the Catholic school system since the diocese announced the closing of six elementary schools in December 2011.

“We recognize the pain and disruption that this decision causes for our beloved school families,” Barres said. “It is a decision that is heartbreaking to our students, their parents and families, our dedicated faculty, administrators and staff, and of course our parishes that are impacted.”

Enrollment at the three schools fell 37 percent since 2011, the diocese said. McGann-Mercy was subsidized with $16.3 million from 2007 through the last school year, and it was expected to need another $2.3 million this year.

The enrollment declines were partly due to a drop of 6.2 percent in the overall school-age population in Suffolk County between 2011 and 2016, the diocese said.

McGann-Mercy is one of three diocese-run high schools. McGann-Mercy students will be offered spots at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip. The other diocesan high school is Holy Trinity in Hicksville.

The diocese said it will provide transportation, guidance counseling and tuition grants to students who continue at one of the diocesan schools.

“Our goal is that these measures will strengthen Catholic schools on Long Island,” said Barres, who took over the diocese in January 2017. “The sad truth is that it has become increasingly unfeasible to maintain these schools financially. As is often the case in these situations, the only real course of action is to combine our resources in new and creative ways so that we can provide a more robust and compelling educational experience across the entire system, in keeping with our mission to serve the people of Long Island.”

McGann-Mercy has a total current enrollment of 365 students in grades 7 to 12, including 312 students in grades 9 to 12. The graduating class in June is expected to be 91 students, in contrast to the 55 signed up as incoming freshmen, the diocese said.

St. Isidore School in Riverhead has 104 students in kindergarten through 8th grade; it is expected to require a subsidy from the parish and diocese of about $475,000 for this school year, the diocese said.

Our Lady of Mercy Regional’s enrollment has dropped to 53 students in kindergarten through 6th grade, including only three students in first grade. The school is expected to require a subsidy from the supporting parishes and the diocese of about $600,000 for the current school year, the diocese said.

“Strengthening enrollment at St. John Paul II Regional School in Riverhead and at our remaining diocesan high schools will create a more vibrant and effective Catholic educational environment,” said Kathleen Walsh, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “We are deeply committed to providing the best Catholic educational experience possible across all 55 elementary and secondary schools in the diocese.”

A decade ago, McGann-Mercy seemed like an inspiring success story for the diocese. Previously run by the Sisters of Mercy, the school was on the verge of closing when the diocese bought it in 2001. The diocese pumped in money, built a new athletic field and created more electives.

By 2008, enrollment jumped to 500, from about 300 when the diocese bought it, and there were waiting lists for grades 7 to 10. In 2009 it even opened a new junior high school wing in the nuns’ former convent, with then-Bishop William Murphy cutting the ribbon at a joyful grand opening.

But Long Island’s changing demographics and other issues finally caught up with McGann-Mercy. After it closes in June, there will remain nine Catholic high schools on Long Island, including those run by religious orders such as St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, Chaminade in Mineola and Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead.

“I am very saddened to hear that McGann-Mercy is closing,” said Brother Gary Cregan, principal of St. Anthony’s. “Fortunately, schools such as St. Anthony’s . . . and St. John the Baptist in West Islip will be able to invite any students into our welcoming school communities.”

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