St. William Elementary School fifth-grader Jason Mattis was disappointed last Friday when he heard his school would be closing in June.
“It’s sad because I practically grew up here,” he said. “I wanted to make it to eighth grade.”
Jason will have to make it to eighth grade at another school because an Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended the closing of St. William, on Rising Sun Avenue in Lawndale, with students continuing their education at St. Cecilia, on Rhawn Street in Fox Chase.
Two other local schools will close.
Students at Our Lady of Consolation, on Princeton Avenue in Tacony, will go to St. Matthew, on Cottman Avenue in West Mayfair.
The young people at Our Lady of Ransom, on Roosevelt Boulevard in Castor Gardens, will move to Resurrection of Our Lord, on Shelmire Avenue in Rhawnhurst.
Additionally, St. Timothy School, on Levick Street in Lower Mayfair, will welcome students from Pope John Paul II in Bridesburg.
Also, St. Martin of Tours, on Roosevelt Boulevard in Oxford Circle, will become a so-called “mission” school. Commission member Ed Hanway explained that St. Martin’s, the southernmost Catholic school in the Northeast, could benefit from extra funding, services and physical assets from the likes of Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools.
Although the partnered schools will be housed at the site of the school with the higher enrollment — for instance, Our Lady of Consolation has just 175 students while St. Matthew has 825 — they might have to change the name and uniforms.
Mary Rochford, superintendent for Catholic schools, explained that five people representing each school will, among other things, choose a name.
“That wasn’t a decision the commission got into,” said Monsignor Edward Deliman, a commission member and former pastor of St. Martin of Tours who saw his two alma maters — Holy Trinity in Morrisville and Conwell-Egan (formerly Bishop Egan) — land on the closed list.
The Rev. Joseph Watson, pastor at St. William, learned his school’s fate last Thursday night. He agrees with the commission’s decision.
“But it does not take the pain or the hurt away,” he told parishioners attending the noon Mass on Sunday.
St. William has 295 students, so it is not surprising the school is closing. St. Cecilia has 670, the third highest among Catholic elementary schools in the Northeast.
“They thought they were safe,” Watson said of officials at St. Cecilia.
The pastor told his congregation that the faculty and administration of both schools will resign and be able to reapply for jobs.
“A new school with a new name will emerge,” he said.
Watson, a St. William graduate, was to get further information on Tuesday, when pastors and principals of partner schools were scheduled to meet with archdiocesan leaders.
During the Mass, Watson asked all St. William graduates and current teachers and students to stand for a round of applause.
Fourth-grader Matthew Guy is sorry to see his school close.
“I like the teachers. They’re nice,” he said.
Brendan Guy, his brother, will be part of the final graduating class at St. William before moving on to Roman Catholic or Father Judge.
“I’m happy I was able to get far at this school,” he said.
Brendan and Matthew live on Reach Street, close enough to walk to St. William. Matthew Guy won’t be able to walk or ride his bike to Rhawn Street.
“Transportation will be an issue,” said Bill Guy, his father.
Regina Rossman is a 1944 graduate of St. William and remains friends with five classmates. She remembers first grade, when Sister St. Elizabeth ran a classroom filled with 98 kids. She also remembers when Watson was an altar boy and tries to avoid calling the pastor “Joe.”
Her five children and three of her grandchildren attended the school.
“When I sent my kids here, it didn’t cost a dime,” she said.
However, church collections are down.
Rossman used to count the weekly contributions, and she said they’ve dropped from roughly $16,000 to $8,000 in a few years. She still washes the altar linens and decorates the church, and is happy that the church will remain open.
As for the school, she notes that it must be costly to heat a building with fewer than 300 students. She understands the commission’s decision.
“I don’t know what else they could have done,” she said.
At Our Lady of Ransom, parents attending Sunday’s 11 a.m. Mass were unhappy with the commission’s decision to close their school.
The parents said the Rev. Christopher Redcay, the former pastor, implemented a lot of positive programs. They praised Mary Toczylowski for teaching her kindergarten pupils to identify all 50 states and they lauded second-grade teacher Mercedes Nippes for her long and distinguished service. And they pointed to a full pre-kindergarten class, outstanding Spanish and math courses and a strong parent volunteer corps that recently planted a garden.
Nichole Mancino, president of the home and school association, described Our Lady of Ransom as a “wonderful school.”
“We’re very disappointed and unsure,” she said.
While high schools held assemblies to break the bad news, elementary schools largely relied on parents to tell their children. Word started leaking out in the media early Friday afternoon.
“There was a better way to do this,” said parent Allyson Batista.
Karen Moylan has two children in the school and is a lunch mom for seventh-graders. She feels sorry that they will have to attend another school for their final year. She hopes most or all of the current Our Lady of Ransom faculty members follow the children to their new destination.
“There are wonderful, dedicated teachers in that school,” she said.
Kim Leipert said her daughter Jessica, now in second grade, has been at Our Lady of Ransom since pre-kindergarten and wants to keep the friends she’s had for the last four years.
“It’s not just a school, it’s a family,” she said.
Our Lady of Consolation principal Stephen DiCicco declined comment, asking for prayers for the school.
The archdiocese briefed elected officials on the commission’s recommendations.
State Rep. John Taylor said he was “shocked” at the closings of Our Lady of Ransom, Our Lady of Consolation, Pope John Paul II, St. George in Port Richmond, St. Laurentius in Fishtown and St. Hubert High School. He plans to help schools that appeal and welcomes calls to his district office at 215–425–0901.
City Councilman Bobby Henon attended St. Bartholomew Elementary School in Wissinoming and North Catholic High School. Both have closed. He plans to work with the mayor, Council and archdiocese to help students transition to another school and to make sure that the vacated buildings are utilized responsibly and in a manner consistent with the needs of the surrounding communities. ••