Our Lady of Mercy Academy junior Kaitlyn Dowd, right, tearfully...

Our Lady of Mercy Academy junior Kaitlyn Dowd, right, tearfully hugs a classmate in the parking lot of the Syosset school Tuesday, the last day of classes there before the school closes later this month. Credit: Jeanette Miller

Students wrapped up the last day of classes at Our Lady of Mercy Academy with tears in their eyes and yearbooks in hand Tuesday as the all-girls Catholic high school in Syosset ended its nearly 100-year run.

The doors won’t officially close until after finals and Regents exams later this month, but days of formal instruction are over at the historic building that some students said felt like a second home.

“I thought it was really sad today,” said Natalie Cuevas, 17, a junior from Huntington. “It’s really hard to watch your friends all crying for the same reason. Also, not all my friends are going to the same school as me, so that's very sad. And it's like, oh, this is our … last of last.”

The school, which opened in 1928 with 11 pupils, has had nearly 10,000 young women walk through its halls.

“For 96 years, 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 classroom so that they will make a difference in our world,” Margaret Myhan, the school's president, said in response to a Newsday inquiry.

Students said Tuesday's farewell was filled with not only tears, including at a morning Mass, but also moments of joy. They signed each other's yearbooks and white polo uniform shirts.

Some students and parents said the school’s fate was hardest on members of the junior class. They faced a challenging academic year that normally would have been filled with preparing college applications, but instead became filled with the search for a new high school.  

The teenagers also had to come to terms with all the senior traditions they would miss. There would be no senior sleepover day, no mother and daughter fashion show, no Washington, D.C., trip and no senior prank day.

“It was one of the first things me and my friends started talking about — all the things we weren't going to have,” said Lilly Fleischer, 16, a junior from Centerport. 

In some ways, the last day of classes capped off a five-month mourning period that began in January. The Sisters of Mercy, which runs the school, announced then that the religious order would shutter the high school in June due to a financial deficit after enrollment declined 45% in the last decade.

Fifty-five girls graduated from the academy this year, down from 122 in 2014. This year’s freshman class had 35 girls enrolled, according to the school's website. As recently as 2018, more than 400 students were enrolled.

The only remaining all-girls Catholic high school on Long Island will be Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead.

The shuttering of Catholic high schools is a nationwide trend, with statistics from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showing the number dropped from 1,986 to 1,174 between 1970 and 2022.

In the last few months, five Catholic schools announced closures in New York City, including the historic all-girls Visitation Academy in Brooklyn.  

News of Mercy’s closure, which initially came in the form of an email, triggered shock waves and anger across the campus and beyond. It also jump-started an effort to save the school, with students' parents, alumni and former faculty creating the OLMA Preservation Coalition.

Adopting a “Mercy girls don’t quit,” catchphrase, the coalition initially collected about $5,000 while fundraising to keep the academy open. But by March, the Sisters of Mercy dashed any hopes that the religious order would take up the coalition’s offer to lease or buy the building to keep the school alive.

In a March 8 letter to OLMA Preservation Coalition, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the owners of the 96-acre school property, said they wouldn't “sponsor, co-sponsor, or provide any affiliation for a school at the site that now houses OLMA.”

Their response was devastating, according to Jeanette Miller, an alumna from South Huntington, whose daughter Kaitlyn Dowd, 17, is a junior.

“I felt hopeless,” Miller, 48, said in a recent interview. ” … What does it say about our society and our culture if we don't cherish our history?” 

On Thursday, the school held its annual class ring ceremony for the juniors in the school's chapel. The students wore white and held yellow roses and said later the bittersweet ceremony felt a little like the Mercy graduation they'd never have.

“You could see a lot of people holding back tears, and that's really been what it's been like since January,” said Miller.  

Miller told participants in an OLMA Preservation Coalition meeting on Zoom last week that despite failures to keep the academy open, they would focus on other initiatives, including a student mentorship program.

The idea of opening another school down the road hasn't been ruled out entirely, but any money the coalition already raised either will be refunded or steered toward The Academy of Mount St. Ursula, an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx, according to Miller.

“Our prayers are always that we don't give up on this mission of educating young women,” she said during the meeting.  

On Tuesday, all Mercy students used a marble staircase normally reserved for seniors as the clock ticked down on the last day of classes.

After the final bell rang, students walked out to applause from teachers. 

Students wrapped up the last day of classes at Our Lady of Mercy Academy with tears in their eyes and yearbooks in hand Tuesday as the all-girls Catholic high school in Syosset ended its nearly 100-year run.

The doors won’t officially close until after finals and Regents exams later this month, but days of formal instruction are over at the historic building that some students said felt like a second home.

“I thought it was really sad today,” said Natalie Cuevas, 17, a junior from Huntington. “It’s really hard to watch your friends all crying for the same reason. Also, not all my friends are going to the same school as me, so that's very sad. And it's like, oh, this is our … last of last.”

The school, which opened in 1928 with 11 pupils, has had nearly 10,000 young women walk through its halls.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Our Lady of Mercy Academy students attended the last day of classes Tuesday.
  • The Syosset school opened in 1928 and will close for good after final exams later this month.
  • The religious order that runs the all-girls Catholic high school cited a financial deficit after declining enrollment while announcing the closure in January.

“For 96 years, 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 classroom so that they will make a difference in our world,” Margaret Myhan, the school's president, said in response to a Newsday inquiry.

Students said Tuesday's farewell was filled with not only tears, including at a morning Mass, but also moments of joy. They signed each other's yearbooks and white polo uniform shirts.

Some students and parents said the school’s fate was hardest on members of the junior class. They faced a challenging academic year that normally would have been filled with preparing college applications, but instead became filled with the search for a new high school.  

The teenagers also had to come to terms with all the senior traditions they would miss. There would be no senior sleepover day, no mother and daughter fashion show, no Washington, D.C., trip and no senior prank day.

“It was one of the first things me and my friends started talking about — all the things we weren't going to have,” said Lilly Fleischer, 16, a junior from Centerport. 

In some ways, the last day of classes capped off a five-month mourning period that began in January. The Sisters of Mercy, which runs the school, announced then that the religious order would shutter the high school in June due to a financial deficit after enrollment declined 45% in the last decade.

Fifty-five girls graduated from the academy this year, down from 122 in 2014. This year’s freshman class had 35 girls enrolled, according to the school's website. As recently as 2018, more than 400 students were enrolled.

The only remaining all-girls Catholic high school on Long Island will be Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead.

Friendship bracelets that Kaitlyn Dowd, a junior at Our Lady...

Friendship bracelets that Kaitlyn Dowd, a junior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, made for her classmates, who marked the last day of classes at the Syosset high school Tuesday before it closes later this month. Credit: Jeanette Miller

The shuttering of Catholic high schools is a nationwide trend, with statistics from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showing the number dropped from 1,986 to 1,174 between 1970 and 2022.

In the last few months, five Catholic schools announced closures in New York City, including the historic all-girls Visitation Academy in Brooklyn.  

News of Mercy’s closure, which initially came in the form of an email, triggered shock waves and anger across the campus and beyond. It also jump-started an effort to save the school, with students' parents, alumni and former faculty creating the OLMA Preservation Coalition.

Adopting a “Mercy girls don’t quit,” catchphrase, the coalition initially collected about $5,000 while fundraising to keep the academy open. But by March, the Sisters of Mercy dashed any hopes that the religious order would take up the coalition’s offer to lease or buy the building to keep the school alive.

In a March 8 letter to OLMA Preservation Coalition, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the owners of the 96-acre school property, said they wouldn't “sponsor, co-sponsor, or provide any affiliation for a school at the site that now houses OLMA.”

Their response was devastating, according to Jeanette Miller, an alumna from South Huntington, whose daughter Kaitlyn Dowd, 17, is a junior.

“I felt hopeless,” Miller, 48, said in a recent interview. ” … What does it say about our society and our culture if we don't cherish our history?” 

On Thursday, the school held its annual class ring ceremony for the juniors in the school's chapel. The students wore white and held yellow roses and said later the bittersweet ceremony felt a little like the Mercy graduation they'd never have.

“You could see a lot of people holding back tears, and that's really been what it's been like since January,” said Miller.  

Miller told participants in an OLMA Preservation Coalition meeting on Zoom last week that despite failures to keep the academy open, they would focus on other initiatives, including a student mentorship program.

The idea of opening another school down the road hasn't been ruled out entirely, but any money the coalition already raised either will be refunded or steered toward The Academy of Mount St. Ursula, an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx, according to Miller.

“Our prayers are always that we don't give up on this mission of educating young women,” she said during the meeting.  

On Tuesday, all Mercy students used a marble staircase normally reserved for seniors as the clock ticked down on the last day of classes.

After the final bell rang, students walked out to applause from teachers. 

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