The possibility of closure for some Catholic schools in Philadelphia has provoked reactions from Penn’s religious community.
Last week, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia began to hear appeals from some of the 45 Catholic elementary schools and four high schools scheduled to be closed or merged due to lack of enrollment and financial losses.
Two review committees — one for elementary schools and one for high schools — have been set up to review the cases of the schools that have chosen to appeal the archdiocese’s Jan. 6 decision.
The review committees will evaluate the information provided by the blue-ribbon commission of the Office of Catholic Education that determined which schools should be closed and will hear from school administrators who wish to keep their schools open. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput will make the final decisions in mid-February.
Director of the Penn Newman Catholic Ministry Father James McGuinn recognizes that having less Catholic high schools in the area could correspond to less of a direct connection with students on Penn’s campus. However, he thinks that is unlikely and that the Newman ministry will not be directly affected by these changes. According to McGuinn, most students at the Newman ministry don’t come from Philadelphia Catholic Schools.
Not all the schools are planning to appeal. Brother Tim Ahern, president of West Philadelphia Catholic High School, does not think he can argue with the enrollment figures. “The fact is that there are fewer and fewer kids in the Southwest and West Philadelphia area to attend a Catholic school,” he said to CBS Philly. “So we really don’t have any grounds to appeal.”
College junior Haftom Khasai graduated from West Philadelphia Catholic High School. Khasai is not Catholic but believes attending a Catholic school was “the best option” for him. “[A public high school] wouldn’t be as safe; it wouldn’t be as focused on discipline.”
Khasai believes enrollment has decreased both because tuition might be expensive for some and because “the parents that can get their kids into a magnet school downtown will do that.”
McGuinn agreed with Khasai. When Catholic schools were first established in the Philadelphia area approximately 100 years ago, they were affordable enough for immigrant families. Today, the cost of a Catholic education may make it only an option for middle and upper middle class families, according to McGuinn.
“The education isn’t great [either] because the resources are limited … I don’t blame them” for sending their kids to public magnet schools, he said.
Enrollment decreases can also be attributed to a decrease in youth in the Philadelphia area over the past four decades, according to McGuinn.
While McGuinn does not contest the decision to close these schools, he believes it is a challenge because “we depended so much on the schools for the religious education of our children.”
Despite the facts of financial loss and enrollment downturns, emotional ties are seemingly playing a large role in the appeals process. “No one wants to close their school,” McGuinn said.
Some schools on the chopping block “like Bonner, Prendergrast, and West Philadelphia Catholic have been a part of the area’s cultural landscape and heritage for years,” Reverend Charles Howard, the University Chaplain, wrote in an email. “It’s a tragic loss all around.”Comments powered by Disqus
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