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Dennelly: Do more for Catholic schools

A car parked at a vigil to save

A car parked at a vigil to save Prince of Peace Regional Catholic School, displays a message to save the school, Saturday in Sayville. The Diocese of Rockville Center is planning on closing the pre-K through eighth grade school without giving parents a reason. Photo Credit: Photo by John Dunn

Terence Dennelly, a spokesman for parents at Prince of Peace Regional School in Sayville, lives in Oakdale.

This Saturday, a large group of determined parents will point their cars and hopes toward Rockville Centre. They'll attend a rally for Catholic education to express their discontent with the level of commitment and support shown toward Catholic elementary education by the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Last month, the diocese announced that six Catholic elementary schools will close in June, and placed five additional schools on warning.

To the casual onlooker, this development might appear to be "a sign of the times," a "consolidation for efficiencies," or a plan for the long-term benefit of Catholic education, which is how the diocese has framed these closures. But it is none of the above.

Take the case of Prince of Peace Regional Catholic School in the heart of Sayville, the school two of my children attend, which is slated to close. According to a February 2011 financial statement, Prince of Peace had a 12-month rolling operating profit of more than $200,000, including the gracious parish subsidies that all Catholic elementary schools receive. An internal investment fund at the school was confirmed to be in excess of $370,000 in August of last year. With a current average of 17 kids per classroom, this is not a faltering school that needs to be closed as a "sign of the times."

As for "consolidation for efficiencies," with only 53 elementary schools in the diocese (including the schools targeted to close), we are already at an anemic level for a population of 1.5 million Catholics. The Diocese of Brooklyn has almost twice as many grammar schools as our diocese, despite a similar Catholic population and a significantly lower median household income -- which makes tuition payments more of a hardship, on average, for these parents.

Some estimate that Catholic education will end for 45 percent of the children attending a school slated to be closed by the diocese. It is hard to embrace the notion that such closures will enhance Catholic education long-term, when it is being sacrificed for these hundreds of children.

Philadelphia is also going through a restructuring of its Catholic schools, and a commission there reported that dozens of its elementary or regional Catholic schools may have to close or merge. But Archbishop Charles Chaput acknowledged in a news conference last week that there can be errors in such restructuring plans. He humbly stated, "Sometimes commissions, when they study issues, make mistakes, and it may be that our analysis of the situation can be corrected." With this statement, the archbishop established an official appeal process for school communities targeted to be close.

By way of comparison, Bishop William Murphy issued an edict on Dec. 16 stating that all of the appeals in support of keeping these schools open were denied. At this time, most parents did not even realize any appeal process was under way.

Archbishop Chaput, in a pastoral way, appears to acknowledge the countless sacrifices that generations of families and teachers have contributed to these school communities. He understands that these stewards are just as much stakeholders in these schools as the entity that owns the land deed, and they deserve, minimally, to present their cases and possible solutions for saving their Catholic communities.

So many Long Island families sacrifice to scrape together what is left over after paying their excessive property taxes to send their children to a Catholic school. It is a virtuous effort, for the end product is well worth it: Children who grow spiritually as well academically.

Over the past few weeks, these families have sacrificed even more, frantically giving every possible effort to keep their beloved schools open and their Catholic communities intact. We should ask no less from our diocese.

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