Friday, February 19, 2010

St. Bernards and Holy Childhood schools to close

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St. Bernard's High School will close at the end of the school year — ending more than a century of education at a North End landmark.

Gathering students in the school cafeteria this afternoon, school leaders blamed financial troubles and declining enrollment for the closing. Like many of the nation's inner-city Catholic schools, St. Bernard's has struggled the past 15 years to stay afloat. It closed its grade school this past year.

The school is celebrating its 119th year on Monday.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis also announced today the closing of Holy Childhood Catholic Elementary, which has served the Como Park neighborhood more than 60 years. Its enrollment has decreased sharply in recent years.

The German and Austrian immigrants who settled in St. Paul's North End neighborhood founded Saint Bernard's parish in 1890. They started up the grade school the next year. By 1957, a growing demand for Catholic high schools in the region prompted the opening of St. Bernard's High.

But the neighborhood has changed over the years as families moved to the suburbs. Of the residents who moved in, fewer are choosing Catholic schools, notes a letter to parents from the Rev. Michael Anderson, pastor at the Church of St. Bernard. Add in the growing competition from charter schools, the increased need for financial aid and the struggling economy; the school simply could not make ends meet.

"Every possible effort has been made to keep this Catholic high school and this Catholic grade school open," said Archbishop Nienstedt, of St. Bernard's and Holy Childhood. "But despite those efforts, the reality of continued dwindling enrollment, for one, and the need to end the resulting financial burden on these parishes, made these very difficult decisions unavoidable."

Changing demographics has been blamed for several recent Catholic school closings in St. Paul. The archdiocese closed Trinity on the East Side last year. In 2005, Blessed Sacrament closed; and St. Columba's the year before. Three years ago, St. Agnes High School was on the brink of closure, but the community rallied to save it.

St. Bernard's has faced closure before. In 2003, St. Bernard's owed the archdiocese about $2 million, and church leaders planned to transfer its elementary students to Trinity. But supporters raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and persuaded the archdiocese to drop the plan.

A liaison will be appointed to help teachers find new jobs and parents find new schools for their children.

There will be 13 Catholic high schools remaining in the Archdiocese, with St. Bernard's students being able to choose from nearby Saint Agnes or Hill Murray and Cretin-Derham Hall high schools.

The decision to close Holy Childhood came after school leaders, teachers and parents assessed the school's viability, the Archdiocese said in a prepared statement. Catholic elementaries nearby include: St. Rose of Lima, St. Agnes and Maternity of Mary-St. Andrew.

Officials with the elementary school could not be reached for comment. Pioneer Press


Strib article

In a tough environment of declining enrollment and demographic changes in local neighborhoods, two Roman Catholic schools in St. Paul said they will close at the end of the school year.

St. Bernard's High School and Holy Childhood School, which serves a pre-K-8 population, both faced dwindling enrollment and had become a burden on their parishes, said officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in announcing the closings Thursday evening.

St. Bernard's closing comes less than a year after it shuttered its lower school and set plans to become the state's first Catholic high school offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Currently, St. Bernard's has 198 students in grades nine through 12 at its location off Rice Street.

"Every possible effort has been made to keep this Catholic high school and this Catholic grade school open," said Archbishop John Nienstedt. "But despite those efforts, the reality of continued dwindling enrollment, for one, and the need to end the resulting financial burden on these parishes, made these very difficult decisions unavoidable."

St. Bernard's has a long history of education. Its grade school was founded by the Benedictine Sisters 118 years ago as an outreach to German immigrants in the neighborhood. The upper school was opened in 1957.

While St. Bernard's officials sought to become an IB school to attract more students, they said that they ultimately could not develop the program within the time frame and resources needed to bring it to fruition. About 80 percent of its students receive financial aid, officials said.

Holy Childhood, located in St. Paul's Como Park neighborhood, has served that area for more than 60 years. It has 48 students, having suffered a sharp enrollment decline in recent years that officials attribute to "demographic changes which reduced the school's available pool of students."

A statement from the archdiocese said Catholic high school options for the St. Bernard's students include nearby St. Agnes School, Hill-Murray School and Cretin-Derham Hall, all in St. Paul. After St. Bernard's closing, the archdiocese will have a total of 13 Catholic high schools.

Holy Childhood families will have the nearby alternatives of St. Rose of Lima, St. Agnes, and Maternity of Mary-St. Andrew.

The remaining archdiocese high schools will be asked to hold open houses for the St. Bernard's students and their parents, said Archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Martha Frauenheim.

She added that financial assistance will be available to St. Bernard's families that choose to apply at other Catholic high schools.

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