Volume 75, Number 50 | May 3 - 9 2006

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

St. Columba’s School students protest planned closing.

St. Columba’s discovers they’re on list to close

By Albert Amateau

Parents, students and teachers of St. Columba’s parochial school in Chelsea felt a devastating aftershock on April 21 when the Catholic Archdiocese changed its realignment plan and announced that their school on W. 25th St. would close this month

At a gathering in front of St. Columba at 3 p.m. last Thursday, Yolanda Rivera, parents association president, urged parents and friends to write to Cardinal Edward Egan and urge that the school be saved.

“We’re not going to go without fighting. It’s all about the children,” Rivera told the crowd of about 200 students, parents and community leaders, including State Senator Tom Duane and representatives of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, at the close of the school day on April 27.

Father Frank Scanlon, St. Columba’s pastor, told the gathering that he had been surprised and disappointed at the decision to close the K-8 school.

A month earlier, the archdiocese issued a list of proposed school closings and mergers in Manhattan, noting that Guardian Angel School on W. 21st St. at 10th Ave. would merge with St. Columba School.

But on Fri. April 21, the last day of the Easter vacation, the archdiocese announced its final decision to close the St. Columba School and keep Guardian Angel School open.

“It was a horrible way to handle the situation,” said Father Scanlon. “We were never against merging with Guardian Angel, but we didn’t have an opportunity to work on it,” he added. Scanlon said that he and some St. Columba parents and teachers had met with Catherine Hickey, archdiocese superintendent of schools, early in April but there was no indication then that the school would close.

Scanlon said he learned unofficially that the school building adjacent to the church would remain vacant for a year and then be turned over for use by the Guardian Angel School.

For St. Columba parents and students, the prospect adds insult to injury. The St. Columba School building, where classrooms have recently been renovated, is larger than the Guardian Angel school, whose enrollment is near capacity.

The official reason for closing the school was that it required a high degree of subsidy from the archdiocese and that enrollment at the school had been declining.

However, Sean Gibney, the school’s principal for the past year, said before the rally that enrollment in the K-8 school had actually increased from 141 at the end of last school year to 161 this year.

Rita Feldman, a volunteer at the school for the past 16 years, said St. Columba parents planned a demonstration in front of the archdiocese’s offices at 1011 First Ave. at E. 56th St. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thurs. May 4.

St. Columba now shares the fate of St. Joseph’s School on Washington Pl. east of Sixth Ave., which the archdiocese put on the April 21 closing list.

“We didn’t even have the chance to discuss a merger with St. Joseph’s School,” Rivera said. In the East Village, Mary Help of Christians School on Avenue A and E. 11th St. is also on the archdiocese agenda for closing. Only Our Lady of Sorrows School on Stanton St. on the Lower East Side, which was also listed for closing, received a reprieve from the archdiocese and will remain open for the near future.

Rivera said the archdiocese statement that parents of students in schools listed for closing would find places in nearby Catholic schools was meaningless because with all the closings, there are no nearby Catholic schools.

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