Heartbroken parents expressed shock, dismay and anger Wednesday as they received the news that the Diocese of Rockville Centre is shuttering six Catholic grammar schools next June because of declining enrollment.
Many said they were caught off-guard by the announcement, and that they felt as if they had just lost a relative or close family friend.
"I feel devastated," said Jaclyn Riker after she dropped off her son, a first-grader, at Prince of Peace Regional School in Sayville.
"When I got the email I started crying," she said. " . . . You believe in Catholic education for a reason."
"I'm angry, disgusted, sad, disappointed," said Jean McQuillan, a Bayport resident whose son is a third-grader at the school. She and other parents said the school had conducted numerous fundraisers to keep Prince of Peace operating in the black, and had revitalized it with sports teams, technology and other programs.
"It's a special place," said Susan Connolly, whose son is in the seventh grade. "It's a very sad day."
Diocesan officials said that while the closings are painful, they felt obliged to make them to strengthen the overall Catholic education system on Long Island and avoid a series of individual shutdowns over the next few years.
"Given the changing demographics and the economic climate on Long Island we, like many public school districts, must face the harsh reality that we no longer need as many school buildings as in the past," said Sister Joanne Callahan, superintendent of diocesan schools. Bishop William Murphy said, "While these choices have not been easy and closing schools is one of the most painful parts of my ministry, I want to assure the parents and children that they are uppermost in my mind."
The schools shutting their doors in Nassau are: St. John Baptist De LaSalle Regional School in Farmingdale; St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square; St. Ignatius Loyola School in Hicksville; and Sacred Heart School in North Merrick.
The reorganization represents the largest number of diocesan school closings at once in two decades. Enrollment in diocesan grammar schools has dropped 34 percent in the past decade, from 28,709 in 2000-01 to 19,261 in 2010-11, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said. In addition to the closings, three schools on Suffolk's East End and two in Nassau will be asked to engage in "collaborative" efforts to work together and strengthen their programs if they want to remain open long-term, Dolan said.
"The kids are hysterical," said Diana Acevedo, a Farmingdale resident whose daughter is in the third grade. Two of Farmingdale resident Pat Johnson's children graduated from the school and a third is in sixth grade. She said the closing was especially troubling because Catholic schools are often the places where young people's vocations to religious life are born.
"Where are we going to get all the priests and nuns from?" she said.