North Jersey Parish School to Close

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

BUTLER, N.J. — Declining enrollment and financial problems – challenges faced by many Catholic schools – has forced St. Anthony of Padua School to announce its closing. The news was announced June 22 by Michael Jones, OFM, pastor of St Anthony Parish, who said in a letter, “we are working to provide a smooth and easy transition for everyone involved — children, parents, faculty and staff.”

The decision to close the 130-year-old elementary school was based on the decreasing enrollment. As recently as 2007, there were 215 students enrolled at St. Anthony; projections for 2012 to 2013 were for approximately 110.

“As many of you know, Catholic schools in many dioceses have been struggling for several years to address the problems of declining student enrollment, changing demographics, and the long economic downturn,” said Michael, in the letter. “St. Anthony School has been trying to deal with these issues.“

“Our parish school has worked hard in recent years to become more financially self-sustaining, relying more on tuition and fundraising programs and less on parish financial support,” he added. “For a while, this was successful. However, enrollment has dropped significantly. Last September, the school began the 2011 to 2012 year with 20 fewer students than anticipated, largely because a much-needed increase in tuition made St. Anthony School less affordable for area families.

The decline in enrollment has continued past the critical point, Mike said. “On May 8, I met with members of the parish finance council, parish council, home school association, school advisory council, and school parents about the urgency of this matter. We all agreed to keep trying to increase enrollment, but that time was running out. We agreed that if enrollment dropped below 130 students for three consecutive weeks, we would not be able to keep the school open.”

The letter, which is posted on the home page of the parish website, discusses the closing further. It provides background about an estate gift received by the parish and school, as well as the requirement of the Paterson Diocese that parish schools operate with a balanced budget.

Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, said he was made aware nearly two years ago that the school was struggling. “The bishop of the Paterson, N.J., diocese phoned me to say that he would probably have to close St. Anthony School.”

Though many parents are very disappointed, Michael said he is pleased to have received words of support from other parishioners.

In his letter, the pastor said, “Please keep all of our students, parents, teachers, staff and school volunteers in your prayers during this time of transition.

Last year, two other schools affiliated with HNP parishes were forced to announce that they were closing — St. Paul School in Wilmington, Del., and All Saints School in New York City.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.