WILMINGTON, Del. — More than 150 students, faculty, alumni and parishioners of St. Paul Church participated in a vigil in late February to mourn the upcoming closing of the parish’s 125-year-old school.
St. Paul School is a victim of budget cuts from the Wilmington Diocese that is saddled with a bankruptcy settlement from sex-abuse victims.
While the school will remain open until end of the school year on June 15, Todd Carpenter, OFM, pastor, thought that holding a vigil now was beneficial for those in mourning.
Struggles and Sadness
I believe that people are grieving,” said Todd, “so we felt that we needed to have that moment of prayer to mourn the loss of our school.” After 10:30 a.m. Mass on Feb. 27, people proceeded from the church to the adjacent school for the 30-minute vigil, attended by most of the friars and postulants who live at St. Paul Friary.
St. Paul received the news of the closing about a month ago, according to Todd, but the announcement didn’t come as a shock. Enrollment had been declining and the school community knew that the approximately $400,000 it received from the struggling diocese was about to end. People aren’t angry, he said, “just sad.”
The vigil was covered by The News Journal, which interviewed parents who were graduates themselves and were now sending their children to St. Paul School. The article was aptly titled, “Vigil Marks Death and Resurrection.”
Students, Todd said, are invited to transfer to Our Lady of Fatima School, which is five miles away and promises to keep tuition comparable to what it was at St. Paul where the tuition was approximately half the cost of other Catholic schools.
Todd said that the school will plan “fun activities” for the rest of the year, so student memories of their last year will be good ones. He also said a celebration will be planned for June to mark the end of a 125-year era of Catholic education in the community.
Celebrations and Opportunities
“We don’t feel like celebrating now, but we will in June,” he said.
Ministering at a parish without a school will be new for Todd, who has always served at churches that ran schools. But he’s looking at this situation as a new opportunity.
If there’s any bright spot in the closing of St. Paul, he said, it is the fact that the church can lease the school building and bring in some income. He said he has had several charter schools and community organizations interested in renting it, but nothing is definite yet.
“I know new opportunities will arise,” said Todd, who had been pastor of Holy Cross Church in the Bronx before moving to Wilmington in 2008. “I hope we can focus our energy on improving our religious education program, and perhaps even have a paid religious education director.”
The Feb. 27 event was described on the St. Paul Church Facebook page as a time to “praise God for the blessing that St. Paul School has been.”
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.