Students at St. Hubert’s Catholic High School for Girls rallied Monday in opposition to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s plans to close its doors.
Dozens of students gathered outside St. Hubert’s carrying signs and singing the school’s alma mater.
St. Hubert’s is one of four Roman Catholic high schools slated for closure under a restructuring plan announced by the archdiocese last Friday due to rising costs and low enrollment.
The other high schools are West Catholic in West Philadelphia; Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill, Delaware County, and Conwell-Egan in Fairless Hills, Bucks County. Students attending a high school that is closing can enroll in other archdiocesan school for the 2012–2013 school year.
Officials at St. Hubert’s said enrollment has declined 55 percent over the past 15 years — the largest percentage of any archdiocesan high school. St. Hubert’s enrollment currently stands at 675 students.
The archdiocese also plans to close or combine 44 elementary schools.
The recommendations by an archdiocesan task force follow a yearlong analysis of the struggling Catholic educational system, which includes 178 schools in the city and four suburban counties.
“The content of the report is challenging — especially, and in a very personal way, for many of our families and students,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a statement.
“But we can no longer avoid dealing with enrollment and financial realities that have been building in our schools for many years. The restructuring proposed in the commission’s report is a critical first step in renewing the health of our Catholic education ministry.”
Appointed by Cardinal Justin Rigali in December 2010, the 16-member blue ribbon commission engaged in a yearlong process to examine current programs at all levels. The commission found that overall enrollment, which currently stands at almost 68,000 students, is down more than 70 percent since 1961.
The commission said parish subsides to the schools have increased by 25 percent in the last 10 years and rising costs have caused a reduction of full-time personnel to staff programs like art, music, languages and technology at some parish elementary schools.
“While the restructuring of our schools was necessary to ensure their future, our plan is much broader, said John Quindlen, the commission’s chairman.
“This plan is designed to develop stronger schools that are better positioned to deliver the high quality education that parents want and students need in order to compete in the 21st century.”
Officials estimate 1,600 administrators, staff and teachers will be impacted due to the restructuring.
In a press release, the Association of Catholic Teachers said it is extremely disheartened by the commission’s recommendations for the future of Catholic education.
“The closing of these schools will have a tremendously negative impact on all teachers, students and parents in our schools. The neighborhoods surrounding the affected schools will also suffer,” the association said.
“The association mourns the loss of these schools. We will be working with the teachers as they go through the grieving process.”
The association said the loss of 44 elementary schools would negatively affect the future enrollment in Catholic high schools, further threatening the future of Catholic education in the area.
“The elementary closings strip our elementary colleagues of their jobs. Unfortunately, these teachers have no contract to protect them, no procedure to ensure their future employment like the one contained in the high school negotiated contract, and no ability to extend health benefits beyond Aug. 31, 2012,” the association said.
The pending closures come at a time when Catholic education across the nation has suffered due to rising costs and lagging enrollment.
Nationwide, Catholic schools have lost more than 587,000 students since 2000, according to the National Catholic Education Association.
For detailed information about the archdiocese’s restructuring plan, visit www.faithinthefuture.com.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was the principal celebrant and homilist for the 50th annual celebration of the canonization of Saint Martin de Porres recently.
Martin de Porres was one of the first Black saints from the Americas. He was born in Lima, Peru in 1579 and died on Nov. 3, 1639. He was canonized on May 6, 1962. His feast day is Nov. 3.
During the celebration at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the first African-American deacons of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were recognized for 30 years of faithful service. Among them were Deacon Thomas Shields, St. Martin de Porres Parish; Deacon Edward Purnell, St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish; Deacon Stephen Hopkins, St. Benedict’s Parish; and Deacon Richard Nightingale, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish.
Chaput was initiated into the Catholic Fraternal Order of the Knights of Peter Claver during a ceremony prior to the memorial celebration.
The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. is the largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States. The order is named for Saint Peter Claver, the Spanish priest who ministered to African slaves. Tit was founded in Mobile, Ala. circa 1909 and is presently headquartered in New Orleans. In 2006, a unit of the order was established in San Andres, Colombia, South America.
The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary will host their 98th annual National Convention at the Philadelphia Marriott in Center City, July 19-24 next year.
PHILADELPHIA — Four high schools slated for closure by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are staying open, church officials announced Friday.
Benefactors have come forward with donations large and small to keep the endangered high schools open, Archbishop Charles Chaput said at a news conference.
"The show of support for these schools from parents, alumni and friends in the community has been rather extraordinary," Chaput said. "Close to 20,000 financial donations have come in from everyday working lay people, these people believe in Catholic education and want to fight to make our schools healthy again."
Last month, church officials recommended the closures of 45 Roman Catholic elementary schools and four high schools in response to rising costs and declining enrollment. But last week archdiocesan officials granted 18 appeals that were raised by 24 schools on the list, reducing the number of recommended closures to 33 elementary schools.
The decision on the affected high schools had been delayed after last-minute news surfaced of potential donors looking to save all four: Conwell-Egan Catholic High School; Saint Hubert Catholic High School for Girls; Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School; and West Philadelphia Catholic High School.
The archbishop said about $12 million in cash pledges and donations has so far come in from school fundraising, philanthropic and business leaders and individual donors. An philanthropic education foundation called Faith in the Future has been created by the archdiocese, he said, to secure long-term funding with the goal of raising $15 million by May and $100 million within five years.
"We have a long way to go to put these four high schools and our whole school system on a strong footing but this is the kind of deep grass-roots commitment we need to renew our educational ministry," Chaput said.
The planned closures were based on recommendations made by a 16-member task force of church officials and laity created in December 2010 by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chaput's predecessor. After a yearlong analysis of the struggling school system, the group said in January that the archdiocese should shutter four of its 17 high schools and close or combine nearly 30 percent of its elementary schools.
Ed Hanway, chair of the new Faith in the Future Foundation and a member of the blue-ribbon commission, said the foundation would work on identifying benefactors to provide funding for schools, on pushing for voucher legislation and increased educational improvement tax credits at the state Capitol.
"We can now address, head on and across the entire system, the need for major funding, the need for stronger marketing and recruitment efforts and the need for legislation to provide opportunity scholarships to our students," he said.
Following the school closure announcement in January, schools held vigils, rallies and marches to oppose the closures and presented enrollment data and financial projections to church officials.
Overall, the system's current enrollment of 68,000 students is the same number the archdiocese served in 1911 and represents a 35 percent drop in the student population since 2001. The archdiocese attributed the contraction to smaller families, shifting demographics, rising tuition and the growth of charter schools.
The 1.5 million-member Archdiocese of Philadelphia had already closed 30 schools during the past five years, leaving 178 schools in the city and four surrounding counties. -- (AP)
After weeks of gloom over the anticipated closure of West Philadelphia Catholic High School, the community is now elated the school will remain open.
“Today, West embraces all present students with joy and calls on all young men and women who are looking for a strong, healthy high school experience to come forward quickly to reserve a place as a member of the class of 2016,” shared the West Catholic administration, faculty and staff to its students.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced last month because of millions of dollars in donations and pledges, four archdiocesan high schools set to close in June would remain open.
Other schools listed were St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Holmesburg, Conwell-Egan in Fairless Hills and Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill.
A West Catholic graduate of the 2007 class, Roxanne Pogue was devastated when she initially learned of the plans to close West Catholic.
“My heart sank,” she said. “I was hoping that it was just a rumor since the Archdiocese has been closing so many schools in the city.”
Through social media updates and posts, many current and former students have shed light on why the school is cherished.
For Pogue, West Catholic has been a reminder of her growth as a young adult and the lifelong bonds that have been created.
“This school is important because it is a piece of history,” she said. “This building and the values have been a landmark in the West Philly community as a place of diversity, opportunity and spiritual growth.
“I came into West Catholic as a student who was unable to graduate from my own elementary school because it was closed by the Archdiocese,” Pogue added. “I would hate to see this happen to someone else, especially during the high school years.”
Like most, Pogue was thrilled to hear the news that the school will remain open.
“I immediately updated my Facebook status,” she said. “People contacted me about the news and I called other people to tell them the wonderful news. It was important to keep the school open because it is a symbol of how far the school has come over the years.
“From being West Catholic Boys and West Catholic Girls to being just West Catholic was a major stepping stone,” Pogue said. “It shows that we have the capability to work together and combine our efforts and resources to keep the school open. I loved being able to walk around West Philly and point out to friends and family that ‘this is the school that I went to.’ I can't imagine taking the 21 bus into Center City and not seeing the building there.”
The Archdiocese credits millions of dollars in donations for keeping open four high schools originally slated for closure.
“Close to $20,000 in financial donations have come in from everyday working lay people,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput. “These people believe in Catholic education and want to fight to make our schools healthy again.”
–6ABC contributed to this report.
PHILADELPHIA — Retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia for more than 15 years but became a central figure in a child sex-abuse case involving the alleged shuffling of predator priests to unwitting parishes, has died. He was 88.
Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sadness in a telegram to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, praising Bevilacqua's "long standing commitment to social justice and the pastoral care of immigrants, and his expert contribution to the revision of the church's law" after the Second Vatican Council.
Bevilacqua, who championed the Vatican line on homosexuality and abortion, died in his sleep Tuesday night at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary after battling dementia and an undisclosed form of cancer, an archdiocese spokeswoman said. He had been the spiritual leader of the 1.5 million-member Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1988 until his retirement in 2003.
Bevilacqua, trained as civil and canon lawyer, was sharply criticized but never charged by two grand juries investigating child sex abuse complaints lodged against dozens of priests in the archdiocese. His death comes just days after lawyers battled in court over his competency as a potential witness in the upcoming trial of a longtime aide.
Bevilacqua was ordained a priest in 1949. As a church leader, he campaigned for a moratorium on the death penalty and often spoke out against homosexuality, birth control and abortion. He headed the influential bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
In 2002, when the church came under fire for clerical sexual abuse, he called homosexuality an "aberration, a moral evil" and suggested gays were more likely to commit abuse. Under Bevilacqua, the Philadelphia archdiocese tried to weed out gay candidates to the priesthood and expelled any seminarian found to be an active homosexual — a zero-tolerance policy experts called relatively rare.
He was not averse to new methods of outreach. Heeding the pope's call for a "New Evangelization," Bevilacqua used then-novel methods, such a toll-free confession line, a live weekly radio call-in program and an online forum for people to pose questions to priests.
"We are carrying out the wishes of the Holy Father for a new evangelization, reaching out to people like never before," Bevilacqua said in 1998.
At the same time, attendance at weekly Mass and Catholic school enrollment was falling in some parts of the archdiocese, leading him to close inner-city schools and parishes. The decline continues. The five-county archdiocese just this month announced plans to close 48 schools, displacing nearly 24,000 students.
Bevilacqua, as required, had submitted his retirement to Pope John Paul II when he turned 75 in 1998. But the pope did not accept it at the time, and the cardinal kept up 16-hour days into his late 70s.
"I exercise regularly and my whole work is constant activity of the mind. A lot of reading, meetings, analyses and discussions," he said at age 77. "My life as an archbishop is delightfully hectic."
But he settled into retirement after turning 80 in 2003. The first grand jury began its work that year. Bevilacqua's successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired last year after the second grand jury report led to the charges against Monsignor William Lynn and four others, including three priests charged with rape. Both reports blasted Bevilacqua's leadership.
Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged in the priest-abuse scandal for his administrative actions. His lawyers argue that he took orders from Bevilacqua. Lynn's trial is scheduled to start in March.
Bevilacqua had been deposed in late November to preserve his testimony, given his age and illnesses. But defense lawyers said he no longer recognized Lynn and could not remember much about his own 10 grueling appearances before the grand jury in 2003 and 2004.
"With the passing of Cardinal Bevilacqua, we will never learn the full truth about clergy sex crimes and cover ups," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. -- (AP)