Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, due to close in...

Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, due to close in June. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

The campaign to keep one of the last remaining all-girls Catholic high schools on Long Island open appears to have failed, but organizers of the effort say they may look for another location to start a similar school.

A group of parents, alumnae and other supporters have been fighting to keep Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset open after the Sisters of Mercy announced in January that the school will close in June because of declining enrollment.

The nuns this month issued what they said was a final edict that there was no reversing the decision, despite the impassioned pleas and organizing efforts of supporters.

“Despite our efforts to provide financial stability, a solid five-year strategy and educational plan, the institution has no interest in listening to us,” Jeanette Miller, one of the main leaders of the movement to save the school, wrote on the OLMA Preservation Coalition website, referring to the Sisters of Mercy.

“A panel of decision-makers from afar have determined that the future of 815 Convent Road no longer includes the mission that the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy dedicated much of their lives to,” Miller wrote.

Still, Miller said in an interview that the battle to save the nearly century-old school on a bucolic 96-acre property — or start one similar — is not over. “I don’t think we are giving up,” she said.

Organizers of the effort are now posing two questions to their supporters, she said: Should they seek to open a new Our Lady of Mercy Academy at a different location but with the same mission started by the nuns in 1928?

Or should they simply devote themselves to preserving memories of the school and perhaps recreating some memorable activities such as Mercy’s “Sports Night?”

Or try both?

The coalition is asking supporters to vote by Sunday in an online survey on what they want to do.

The Mercy Sisters stated in a letter to the group this month that they have no intention of reversing their decision to shutter the school or allow it to reopen under the leadership of another organization.

“Our work with OLMA is coming to completion…,” two nuns representing the order, Susan M. Sanders and Maureen King, wrote. “Any potential for a new school should be planned with the knowledge that the Sisters of Mercy property is not an option for running such an establishment.”

The order will not sponsor, co-sponsor “or have any affiliation” with a school at the current site or any other in the greater Syosset area, they wrote. “Please refrain from creating any confusion that Mercy Education or the Sisters will be associated or affiliated with any potentially new school.”

The nuns said the order has “not completed an assessment for the potential uses of the OLMA-portion of our property,” but “it will not include a school.”

Miller said her group had been negotiating with the nuns to lease or purchase the school and keep it running under new leadership, or to at least get them to endorse or sponsor a new school at another location.

The coalition contends that under new leadership, the academy could thrive again. They point to examples of Catholic schools run by religious sisters, brothers or priests that were closed but reopened under lay leadership and prospered.

One was Holy Cross Preparatory Academy in Delran, New Jersey, which was closed by the Diocese of Trenton but reopened in 2018 as an independent Catholic school. Enrollment has since gone up by 20%, from 250 to 300 students, said David Moffa, the school’s principal.

OLMA’s enrollment had dropped to 37 students in this year’s freshmen class, the Mercy Sisters said. As recently as 2018, its total enrollment was more than 400, or an average of about 100 per grade.

The only other all-girls Catholic high school on Long Island is Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. That school says enrollment is strong.

Dawn Cerrone, who resigned her position as the school’s athletic director to work full time with the coalition, said she had hoped that the Sisters of Mercy would say what they plan to do with the property. Cerrone said she can think of few better uses of the iconic building, which is modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, than educating girls.

The nuns' "response was disappointing," she said. "It really breaks my heart."

The campaign to keep one of the last remaining all-girls Catholic high schools on Long Island open appears to have failed, but organizers of the effort say they may look for another location to start a similar school.

A group of parents, alumnae and other supporters have been fighting to keep Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset open after the Sisters of Mercy announced in January that the school will close in June because of declining enrollment.

The nuns this month issued what they said was a final edict that there was no reversing the decision, despite the impassioned pleas and organizing efforts of supporters.

“Despite our efforts to provide financial stability, a solid five-year strategy and educational plan, the institution has no interest in listening to us,” Jeanette Miller, one of the main leaders of the movement to save the school, wrote on the OLMA Preservation Coalition website, referring to the Sisters of Mercy.

“A panel of decision-makers from afar have determined that the future of 815 Convent Road no longer includes the mission that the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy dedicated much of their lives to,” Miller wrote.

Still, Miller said in an interview that the battle to save the nearly century-old school on a bucolic 96-acre property — or start one similar — is not over. “I don’t think we are giving up,” she said.

Organizers of the effort are now posing two questions to their supporters, she said: Should they seek to open a new Our Lady of Mercy Academy at a different location but with the same mission started by the nuns in 1928?

Or should they simply devote themselves to preserving memories of the school and perhaps recreating some memorable activities such as Mercy’s “Sports Night?”

Or try both?

The coalition is asking supporters to vote by Sunday in an online survey on what they want to do.

The Mercy Sisters stated in a letter to the group this month that they have no intention of reversing their decision to shutter the school or allow it to reopen under the leadership of another organization.

“Our work with OLMA is coming to completion…,” two nuns representing the order, Susan M. Sanders and Maureen King, wrote. “Any potential for a new school should be planned with the knowledge that the Sisters of Mercy property is not an option for running such an establishment.”

The order will not sponsor, co-sponsor “or have any affiliation” with a school at the current site or any other in the greater Syosset area, they wrote. “Please refrain from creating any confusion that Mercy Education or the Sisters will be associated or affiliated with any potentially new school.”

The nuns said the order has “not completed an assessment for the potential uses of the OLMA-portion of our property,” but “it will not include a school.”

Miller said her group had been negotiating with the nuns to lease or purchase the school and keep it running under new leadership, or to at least get them to endorse or sponsor a new school at another location.

The coalition contends that under new leadership, the academy could thrive again. They point to examples of Catholic schools run by religious sisters, brothers or priests that were closed but reopened under lay leadership and prospered.

One was Holy Cross Preparatory Academy in Delran, New Jersey, which was closed by the Diocese of Trenton but reopened in 2018 as an independent Catholic school. Enrollment has since gone up by 20%, from 250 to 300 students, said David Moffa, the school’s principal.

OLMA’s enrollment had dropped to 37 students in this year’s freshmen class, the Mercy Sisters said. As recently as 2018, its total enrollment was more than 400, or an average of about 100 per grade.

The only other all-girls Catholic high school on Long Island is Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. That school says enrollment is strong.

Dawn Cerrone, who resigned her position as the school’s athletic director to work full time with the coalition, said she had hoped that the Sisters of Mercy would say what they plan to do with the property. Cerrone said she can think of few better uses of the iconic building, which is modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, than educating girls.

The nuns' "response was disappointing," she said. "It really breaks my heart."

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