Volume 79, Number 41 | March 17 - 23, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Paramedic George Contreras, left, tending to a patient during the night shift at University General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

Catholic school parents, pupils fight closure plan

By Julie Shapiro

Distraught over the archdiocese’s plan to close two Lower Manhattan Catholic schools, students and their parents prayed and rallied on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown on Sun., March 7.

The families came from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School on Mott St. and St. James School on St. James Place, both of which the archdiocese plans to close at the end of the school year because of low enrollment. At the rally, dozens of children waved colorful homemade signs reading “Please Save Our School” and “Pray for Our School.”

“We are not giving up,” said Stephanie Pinto, a trustee and graduate of St. James School, who helped organize the rally.

Both the St. James and the St. Patrick’s parents met with officials at the Catholic Archdiocese of New York about the closures recently. The St. James parents are still waiting for a response, and it’s possible the school could stay open in some form, but an archdiocese spokesperson said St. Patrick’s would definitely close.

St. Patrick’s opened in 1822 as the city’s first Catholic school, several years after the founding of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral church nearby. The church split from the school a couple of years ago, and relations grew tense, with St. Patrick’s students barred from taking their first communion at the church, parents said. Sandra Dupal, a St. Patrick’s parent, said the break could be one reason the school’s enrollment recently shrunk to 129 students.

Archdiocese spokesperson Fran Davies declined to address the split. Dupal and others heard the archdiocese planned either to convert the school building to condos or to make it into a basilica, a place the pope can stay on his New York visits. Davies said no final decision has been made about the space.

Dupal said she was shocked and sad when she heard St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School was closing and that she would have to find a new school for her first-grade son and sixth-grade daughter.

“The whole atmosphere of St. Patrick’s is very nurturing,” Dupal said. When her son started school there, “He became like a budded flower — he just opened up,” Dupal said. She was so pleased that she recently moved her daughter from NEST, a public school on East Houston St., to St. Patrick’s, a decision she is now questioning.

Dupal is not sure where her children will attend school next year. Some of the other Catholic schools she has looked at don’t have gyms or outdoor play spaces, and she is concerned about the large class sizes in public schools.

Although the archdiocese has made it clear that St. Patrick’s is closing, Pinto, the St. James trustee, is leading an effort that she hopes will save both St. James and St. Patrick’s. She has submitted several proposals to the archdiocese that would allow the schools to stay open by using the St. Patrick’s building or other convent and rectory space nearby.

The archdiocese has not yet responded to Pinto’s ideas. Its stated plan is to merge St. James with St. Joseph School on Monroe St. and allow the overcrowded Transfiguration School, on Mott St., to expand into the St. James building.

But St. Joseph’s does not have enough room for all 213 St. James children, so parents say the purported merger amounts to a closure of St. James, which opened in 1854 and boasts such notable alumni as Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president on a major party line.

Another obstacle to the merger is that the St. James preschool cannot move to St. Joseph’s, because St. Joseph’s is located up several flights of stairs, which would be a fire safety violation for such young children, Pinto said.

Pinto said an ideal solution would be to truly merge St. James and St. Joseph’s, by putting a lower school of younger children in the St. James building and an upper school in the St. Joseph’s building. The Transfiguration School would still need a place to go, but perhaps they could take the St. Patrick’s building on Mott St., if the archdiocese changes its mind about the future use of that building, Pinto said.

Pinto expects the archdiocese to respond to her suggestions and possibly offer a clearer plan for the St. James children within a week.




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