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Parents rally to save Catholic schools

Catherine Catanese, left, is joined by Stephanie Diemer,

Catherine Catanese, left, is joined by Stephanie Diemer, right, and her daughter, Madeline, 6, front, at a vigil to save Prince of Peace Regional Catholic School in Sayville. (Dec. 17, 2011) Photo Credit: John Dunn

Parents from six Roman Catholic grammar schools due to be closed in June are still fighting the Diocese of Rockville Centre's decision, and, in some cases, are floating the idea of running the schools themselves.

The parents have banded together to hold rallies, take out newspaper ads and this Saturday plan a mass protest in front of St. Agnes Cathedral and Bishop William Murphy's residence in Rockville Centre. Parent leaders were told at a Dec. 21 meeting with diocesan officials that Murphy's decision, announced Dec. 6, was final.

"I'd like to believe he'll have a softening of heart," said Terry Dennelly, a parent leader at Prince of Peace Regional Catholic School in Sayville.

Dennelly said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which recently announced it is closing 45 grammar schools, has established an appeals process, and he wants Rockville Centre to do the same.

Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said Tuesday, "There will not be any appeals."

Dolan added that "We would hope that parents, while we understand that they are upset . . . will maybe begin to reconcile themselves with the decision to close the schools and use their talents and expertise to help strengthen the remaining Catholic elementary schools on Long Island."

Anthony Scuderi, a parent representative at St. John Baptist De LaSalle Regional School in Farmingdale, said parents there want to take it over to save it from closing.

They are asking the diocese to let them run it as an independent Catholic school without diocesan oversight or financial support. The parents formed a committee to study the feasibility of such a move.

"We want the diocese to set us free and let us operate as our own entity," he said. He noted the Diocese of Brooklyn has made similar moves by permitting at least a dozen schools to convert to privately run "academies," including Pope John Paul II Family Academy in Bushwick.

Parents at Prince of Peace, Sacred Heart School in North Merrick and St. Ignatius Loyola School in Hicksville are also discussing the idea.

Prince of Peace parents have received a letter from a state assemblyman decrying the closing and calling on Murphy to reverse course.

"With the onslaught of attacks on religion, I feel it is important for parents in my district to have an opportunity to send their children to a religious-based academic institution," Assemb. Alfred Graf (R-Holbrook) said.

The other schools slated to close are Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst and St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square.

The shutdowns would drop from 53 to 47 the number of Catholic grammar schools in the diocese, affecting about 1,000 children. Murphy has said he made the move because of declining enrollment and hopes to avoid more closings for the rest of his time as bishop, expected to last four or five years.

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