St. Louis communities shocked by news that two Catholic high schools are slated to close
School leaders, alumni and families were shocked and tearful on Wednesday after learning that the St. Louis Archdiocese plans to close St. Mary’s and Rosati-Kain high schools at the end of this school year. St. Mary’s alumni are already trying to find a way to keep the school open.
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski asked for prayers for everyone who will be affected by the decision at a press conference Wednesday. Rozanski said it came down to numbers — in both schools, enrollment has been declining for years.
“These two schools were the ones that were the most critical,” Rozanski said. “All of our other schools, our high schools, seem to be in good shape.”
The decision is part of a greater restructuring of archdiocese parishes and schools, a project called All Things New. The initiative could lead to more closings.
“The overarching goal of All Things New is to make sure that we have a vibrant Catholic presence in every area of the archdiocese,” said the Rev. Christopher Martin, vicar for strategic planning for the archdiocese. “Many people will question how decisions like the ones made today have that sort of an impact. … Having a vibrant presence in every area of the archdiocese doesn't necessarily mean that we maintain all the current ministries we have in all the current locations.”
Both high schools had more than 1,000 students in the mid-1940s. Today, Rosati-Kain has 188, with a freshman class of 33 students. St. Mary’s has just over 200 students, with a freshman class of 50. Martin said the decision came after years of conversations with school leaders about declining enrollment and the financial strain that came with it.
Still, teachers and school officials said they were surprised by the decision. St. Mary’s High School has a long history in the Dutchtown neighborhood. It opened in 1931 as South Side Catholic High School and has many notable alumni, including local politicians, professional athletes and business leaders.
Some of those alumni are exploring options to keep St. Mary’s open outside of the archdiocese, said Mike England, president of the school. England said the school saw a big drop in enrollment this year, which he attributes to fears about what All Things New would mean for the school.
“It's why we feel confident about moving forward and becoming a private Catholic school, because, you know, now that that cloud has been lifted off of St Mary's, we truly believe that we'll build this enrollment right back up,” England said.
Former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a St. Mary’s alumnus, said the school is a needed anchor in the Dutchtown neighborhood. He was on the phone with other alumni Wednesday to talk about ways to keep it open.
“We know it's going to be a challenge, but we're up for it,” Slay said. “We think it's worth it. The kids, the children, the young men are worth it. The neighborhood needs it. The city needs the school.”
At Rosati-Kain on Lindell Boulevard, teacher Sarah Morris broke down in tears on Wednesday.
“This has been my passion, my joy, my privilege to teach these amazing young people, and the thought of not having them in my life anymore, just, it devastates me,” Morris said. “It breaks my heart for them and for all of us. This place is amazing, and I am so very sad to see it go.”
She has been teaching theater, literature and film at the school for more than 20 years. The all-girls high school has been open since 1911, first as two separate schools.
Both schools say student diversity is one of their strengths. More than 80 students between the two schools are attending on scholarships provided by the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, which helps students attend Catholic schools. At the press conference, President Julie Soffner said that the scholarships will stay in place through the end of the school year and that the organization will stay with families as they figure out their next steps.
“We will work side by side to support the future scholarship needs of every student of these schools,” Soffner said.
Next, the archdiocese plans to begin publishing enrollment and financial data for all of its schools to continue conversations about its future.
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