Many readers have been writing to us about the recent announcement that St. Mary of the Assumption School in Lawrence will close at the end of this school year. The parish serves a very poor population in North Lawrence and was running an annual deficit. Reading between the lines in the various press reports and looking at some of the archdiocese’s annual reports, it sounds like the Catholic Schools Foundation and the archdiocese owe the folks in Lawrence a bit more of an explanation than they have provided.
Here are a few pieces of information we thought you would find useful:
1. From the Boston Pilot we learn that the pastor tried everything he could, but was unable to get the archdiocese to support the school this past year or commit to supporting it in the coming year. Sounds like the archdiocese is putting all of their proverbial “eggs” in the basket of the Jack Connors’ Catholic academies:
Father Reyes said the kindergarten through grade 8 school is closing because of significant operating deficits which the school has faced over the past few years. Presently, the school is running a $300,000 debt, and more deficits are anticipated as operating costs continue to rise.
“It has also become painfully clear over the past several months that the parish no longer has the fiscal resources to fund the school at the level required,” Father Reyes wrote. “I have made every effort and reviewed every possible opportunity to overcome our financial burdens but have concluded that we have no alternative but to close.”
Speaking with The Pilot, Father Reyes said the school erased last year’s deficit through a loan from the Archdiocese of Boston.
According to Father Reyes, the school did not receive support from the Catholic Schools Foundation this year. He also said he did not anticipate the school would receive CSF funding for the 2011-12 school year.
The Catholic Schools Foundation provides scholarships for students with financial needs. Mike Reardon, executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, said that St. Mary’s had submitted a grant request for the next school year and said final decisions are made in May.
He expressed the foundation’s desire to support Catholic education in Lawrence.
“The Catholic Schools Foundation is committed to Catholic education in the city of Lawrence and we need to ensure the dollars entrusted to us by our donors have the most long term impact they can have so the students in Lawrence can be assured the benefits of Catholic education would be available for years to come,” Reardon said.
In September 2010, Lawrence Catholic Academy (LCA) opened from the merger of St. Patrick School in Lawrence and Our Lady of Good Counsel School in bordering Methuen.
When local Catholic school officials were planning LCA, there were discussions with St. Mary’s officials inviting the school to join. However, St. Mary’s opted to remain open as an independent parish school.
“We could not afford to join the academy,” Father Reyes said. Father Reyes said it would have cost his parish $80,000 per year plus half of the proceeds from the rental or sale of the existing school building.
Father Reyes said he opted for closure, as well, because he could not wait until May to receive a definitive answer from the Catholic Schools Foundation as to whether St. Mary’s would receive funding.
2. From the 2010 Annual Report (p.35), we know that in the year ended June 30, 2009, $126,000 was transferred to Trinity Catholic Academy, Inc., a related organization that in 2007 consolidated the operations of certain parish schools in Brockton. That is on top of the $2.5M that was given to Trinity Catholic Academy in August of 2007 (as we described in (“Is the Archdiocese of Boston Committing Fraud?”)
3. From a September 12, 2010 press release by the Catholic Schools Foundation, we know that the CSF gave $425,000 in grants and scholarship assistance to the new Lawrence Catholic Academy:
Mike Reardon, Executive Director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, announced a $125,000 grant to the newly opened Lawrence Catholic Academy…The funding will be used to enhance the curriculum and environment of the newly established Academy. “This grant, along with our recent gift of $300,000 for scholarship support, is a testament to our belief in the students and teachers at Lawrence Catholic Academy.”, said Mr. Reardon following the announcement. “We are proud to partner with LCA to make a first-class Catholic education available to these students and families.”
4. Several local newspapers, the Eagle Tribune and Valley Patriot today described how about 500 students, parents and supporters of Saint Mary’s School of the Assumption in Lawrence rallied and held a vigil Saturday to oppose the decision of the Boston Archdiocese to close the schoo.
Parishioners complained that the Archdiocese had plenty of money and even increased funding (nearly double) for the catholic school in South Lawrence, Lawrence Catholic Academy.
“What we can accomplish is, we want to send a message to the Cardinal,” he told The Valley Patriot. “… you can’t spend $35,000 on this school? But you can spend twice that much on the other school in South Lawrence? They’re getting So much more. So, there is the money.”
“Lawrence Massachusetts residents are outraged about the fact that the only Elementary Catholic School, St. Mary of the Assumption, in the North side of the city has announced that it will be closing its doors June, 2011.
The Community of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish is demanding answers from the Boston Archdiocese in particular, Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
“We want to know why if the Catholic School 2010 Plan” took in to account the ethnic, economical and social differences called for the initiative of two catholic schools in Lawrence, one in South Lawrence and the other in the North, and we are now blind sided with the news of the closing of the school in the North.”
That would leave the Lawrence Catholic Academy in the south to which the majority of the students from the north can not financially afford nor do they have the physical space to accommodate them.
5. In the 2010 Annual Report released last week, we heard that “Catholic schools remained a priority.” Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill had her total salary reduced slightly in 2010 but increased back to $325K in 2011. Defending against criticism of the high salaries, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson said in The Pilot, “Cardinal Seán has attracted world-class talent to his team, and the fruits of their labor can be seen in what they have accomplished.”
Catholic school enrollment is declining year after year, now down to about 42,000 students. More and more Catholic schools are closing. Can someone share with BCI exactly what is it that Mary Grassa O’Neill (paid $1 million over 3 years) and her team of six-figure salaried associate superintendents have accomplished?
BCI does not know the right answer for the Lawrence situation, but simply is sharing this information with Catholics interested in this specific situation and in the future of Catholic education in Boston.