The Diocese of Rockville Centre recently announced the closure of three Catholic elementary schools following financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Peter of Alcantara School located in Port Washington, along with two other schools, Holy Family Regional School in Commack and Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson are closing at the end of this school year and will not reopen in the fall.
The diocese stated that changing demographics and an increased competition from public and secular private schools has contributed to the decline of Catholic school enrollment nationwide. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a significant burden to these three schools, which were already struggling with enrollment and financial hardships prior to the pandemic.
According to representatives from the diocese, much analysis and discussion at both the diocesan and parish levels took place prior to this difficult decision. But after careful consideration, “the enrollment decline, combined with the impact of COVID-19 on both parish offertory collections, tuition collections, and fundraising efforts, made it clear that it is not feasible to maintain these schools financially.”
Documents released by the diocese showed a sharp decline in enrollment at St. Peter of Alcantara for the last several years. “From 2014-15 through the 2019-20 school year, Saint Peter of Alcantara School had seen enrollment decline 52 percent to 99 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 36 percent to 176 students in nursery through eighth grade. In the 2018-19 school year, the school received more than $220,000 in support from the parish and diocese.”
“We are deeply saddened by the closings of these three elementary schools,” Sean P. Dolan, Director of Communications, Diocese of Rockville Centre, said in a written statement. “COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on all of the parishes and schools within the Diocese, resulting in the difficult decision to close these three Catholic elementary schools in order to eliminate the unsustainable financial stress on their parishes. The Diocese of Rockville Centre thanks each and every one of the dedicated and committed principals and teachers, both lay and religious, who have taught in these schools since their inception.”
Monsignor Robert Clerkin, the pastor of St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church released a statement to the parishioners regarding the school’s closure.
“I am writing you today to share some sad news,” Clerkin wrote. “This is the most difficult letter I have had to write in my forty years of priesthood and in my first year as pastor here. I did not make this decision lightly. I prayed long and hard over it. I realize this is a great loss for our parish and our school families, as well as the administrators, teachers and staff of Saint Peter of Alcantara School.”
Clerkin thanked the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for establishing the school, which was built in 1925 and began with just 70 students. He went on to thank the staff, teachers and school parents for their “time, treasure and talent over the years,” and their dedication to continuing to educate the children in a virtual setting during the pandemic.
“St. Peter’s students will be warmly welcomed into any of the excellent Catholic Elementary Schools on Long Island in the Diocese of Rockville Centre,” Clerkin wrote. “In the coming weeks, school officials and representatives of the Department of Education will assist our families with the process of selecting and transferring to a new school.” The Diocese of Rockville Center has 35 Parish and Regional Elementary Schools across Long Island. The four closest Catholic schools located within the vicinity of St. Peter’s are St. Mary’s in Manhasset, St. Aidan’s in Williston Park, St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay and Notre Dame in New Hyde Park. Parents of students from St. Peter’s may call the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s special hotline at 516-280-4124 or email email@example.com for questions or comments.
Anton Media Group reached out to St. Peter’s principal Deacon John Hogan for a statement. He declined to comment stating, “we have nothing to add to the Diocese’s press release and comments.”