Diocese announced St. Mary School closing
Apr 02, 2013 06:03AM ● Published by Community News Service
St. Mary School students, faculty, staff and family with principal and Grand Marshall Dr. Frank X. McAneny at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Mount Holly on March 2, 2013. St. Mary’s School principal, Dr. Frank X. McAneny, served as Grand Marshall for the parade. The cheerleaders were awarded the Grand Marshall trophy for their performance and spirit.
By Lexie Yearly
On March 8, the Diocese of Trenton announced that St. Mary School in Bordentown would close at the end of the school year in June. The Pre-K through 8th grade Catholic school planned to celebrate its official 125th anniversary this year. The news came as a surprise to faculty, students and parents despite several consecutive years of low enrollment at the school. “We knew that our enrollment was decreasing, but I don’t think anyone expected it to get to this point,” said principal Frank X. McAneny. Almost as soon as the news was released that Friday, a “Save St. Mary School” Facebook page emerged, set up by concerned parents and school alumni, and petitions to donate to the school appeared on the school’s official website. Students, staff and parents also marched in the Trenton St. Patrick’s Day parade March 16, holding signs about the school’s impending closure. However, diocese spokesperson Rayanne Bennett confirmed that Bishop David M. O’Connell had gone on the record stating that the decision to close the school was final. According to a diocese-issued press release, the bishop cited declining enrollment and increasing operational costs as factors that determined it is no longer “feasible or realistic” to keep the school open. The diocese had determined benchmarks of viability for all schools, which include a minimum enrollment of 220 students and allow no more than 30 percent of parish collections being used to fund the parish school’s operation. St. Mary School was barely accounting for half that enrollment number, with 110 students at the start of the school year and two more who enrolled later on, McAneny said. Despite several attempts at increasing enrollment, the low numbers never improved enough. In fact, numbers had continued to shrink in five of the last six years. A marketing committee had tried setting up campaigns to spread word of the school and its offerings, and signs have been visible all throughout Bordentown promoting the school’s open house events and anniversary. “After you’ve been here for 125 years, it is disappointing, but I do know finances have been a problem for past couple years,” McAneny said. “The pastor has always been a big supporter, but money is impacting on parish funds.” Last year, the parish exhausted more than 50 percent of its collection income to support the school, which amounted to more than $400,000. The St. Mary Parish pastor, the Rev. Michael Burns, declined to comment for this story, but the press release stated that the parish had used so much of its financial reserves, it could no longer meet all its expenses. Despite additional funding from the diocese as well, the school will still be more than $100,000 in debt by the end of the year, according to Burns in the press release. The diocese had known the issues were continuing at the school despite attempts to remedy the enrollment crisis. “This had been on the radar for a while, so it certainly isn’t coming out of left field for us,” Bennett said. McAneny said the school was planning to have a large anniversary celebration in September, but that plans have at the moment been halted. As for what comes next for the school, the principal said it was too soon to tell. “I think most of us are still in a little bit of shock, and I just think we need a little bit of time to sit down and decide what we need to do to go forward,” he said. St. Mary School was the first school founded by the Sisters of Mercy in New Jersey. It was founded in the mid-1800s, and the school’s building was built in 1888. The Sisters of Mercy left the school in fall 2000, though the school still operates under their principles. St. Mary School is the first Catholic school that the bishop has had to close since he was put in charge of the diocese in December 2010. But Catholic schools have continued to struggle across the country, Bennett said, due to fiscal realities from the economic crisis and demographic shifts. “The fact that there are these realities, every Catholic school really for the most part is looking at this mindset to maintain vitality and strength for the future, or trying ot offset whatever impact it’s had on them,” Bennett said. St. Mary School still has its annual fundraising events scheduled for the remainder of the school year, including a Beef ‘n Beer May 11 at Hope Hose, Antique Car Show May 18, and annual golf outing at Mountain View Golf Course May 31 (1 p.m. shotgun start, dinner following for $125 per golfer). The school is also hosting daily open houses and is still accepting registration for next year. St. Mary School is located at 30 Elizabeth St. in Bordentown City. Phone: (609) 298-1448. On the Web: smsbordentown.org.