Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset will be closed...

Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset will be closed at the end of the school year, school officials said. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Our Lady of Mercy Academy, a nearly century-old all-girls Catholic high school in Syosset, is closing in June because of declining enrollment, school officials said Tuesday.

The shuttering will leave Long Island with just one all-girls and one all-boys Catholic high schools.

Enrollment at Mercy Academy fell from about 100 students in each grade less than a decade ago to 37 in this year’s freshman class, school officials said. In the previous five years class sizes ranged from 70 to 55.

“This difficult decision was made because of changing demographics and lower enrollment,” the school said in a statement. “Our Lady of Mercy Academy has been a cornerstone of academic excellence and spiritual formation for countless students for nearly a century. The decision to close the school was made with a heavy heart but guided by a commitment to responsible stewardship.”

A pivotal role

Margaret Myhan, the school’s president, said that “over nine decades, the faculty and staff of OLMA have played a pivotal role in shaping the lives of generations of students, instilling values that extend far beyond the classrooms so that they make a difference in our world. Our legacy was built on providing academic rigor, character formation, and personal and professional development in a nurturing faith-based environment.”

School officials said they will help current students transition to other institutions, and assist staff in securing new positions.

Jen Yatco of Williston Park, a graduate of Mercy Academy and an English teacher at the school for 15 years, the last eight as a department chair before leaving in 2022, said she was “heartbroken” by the news.

“It’s the bonds that are formed there across the different groups, whether it’s students among themselves, the faculty and the families,” Yatco said. “It’s such a huge loss and everybody’s feeling it right now.” 

Tolani Aliyu, 22, a 2019 graduate, said the closing is “really upsetting because I formed lifelong friendships at that institution.”

Smaller classes

But, she added, “I kind of noticed it coming because I noticed how class years after me were getting smaller and smaller. So I kind of concluded it but I didn’t expect it to be this year, so it is definitely shocking for sure.”

One woman who identified herself as a parent of a current student started a change.org petition to keep the school open. By Tuesday evening, it had 1,747 signatures.

The academy, located on a bucolic 96-acre campus, was founded in 1928 by the Sisters of Mercy with just seven students who boarded there. Over the years it attracted students from as far away as South America.

By the 1940s, the school started accepting day students, and by 1965 the boarding aspect ended. The school hit a peak of about 525 students in the 1970s, though its enrollment of about 400 in 2018 was high enough to keep it strong, Myhan told Newsday at the time.

But a combination of factors contributed to a sharp decline in enrollment in the last few years.

Yatco said she’s concerned about the fate of her former colleagues, who will find themselves out of work later this year.

“The teachers there are so invested in the success of the students,” she said. “ … They’ve got a tough road ahead of them right now to finish out this year.”

Private school challenges

All-girls private schools on Long Island have faced various challenges. Surrounded by top public school districts, they had to compete for a declining number of school-age children on Long Island in general. Plus, unlike public schools, they charge tuition — the current rate at Mercy Academy was $15,000 a year.

Long Island had three all-girls Catholic high schools until 2009, when the Academy of St. Joseph in Brentwood shut down after an illustrious 153-year history during which it, too, took in boarders from South America.

That school was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, who also operate all-girls Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, which remains open.

The nuns had said the school in Brentwood was no longer financially viable because of falling enrollment.

The co-ed Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, the only Catholic high school on the East End, closed in 2018 for the same reason.

The only all-boys Catholic high school on Long Island is Chaminade, run by the Marianist Brothers, in Mineola.

Our Lady of Mercy had a strong track record of sending graduates to top colleges, school officials said.

Its 2018 graduating class of 114 sent students to the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and other Ivy League and top-tier colleges. The class garnered $26 million in scholarships.

The school had undergone $2.5 million in upgrades and additions from 2014 to 2018, including a new technology center and student study center, and improvements to the science labs and softball field, Myhan told Newsday at the time.

With Robert Brodsky

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