The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg on Tuesday cited continued financial stress and decreasing enrollment as key factors in the decision to close two schools.
Holy Family Consolidated Catholic School in Berwick and Lebanon Catholic are slated for closure at the end of this school year, officials said in a written press statement.
Both schools have been facing enrollment and financial challenges for years and their continued operation is no longer sustainable by the area parishes, the press release said.
“Making the choice to close a Catholic school is one of the most difficult decisions for a bishop. Although many members of the Berwick and Lebanon communities worked heroically to reverse the financial situations of the schools, the downward trend has continued for years and has reached a point that is no longer sustainable by the parishes without impacting many other ministry programs. It is with a very heavy heart that I grant permission for these closures,” said Bishop Ronald Gainer.
“While this is a very difficult time, I wish to thank the principals, faculties, staff, parents and students for their dedication.”
Gainer indicated that the respective parish pastors had requested the closure of the schools, citing the continued financial stresses upon the parishes, “especially in light of the current health crisis.”
The 15-county Harrisburg Diocese in February filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing an unsustainable financial situation caused by ongoing clergy sex abuse lawsuits.
The filing comes two years after a statewide grand jury investigation found that priests in the diocese and five others in Pennsylvania had sexually molested generations of minors.
The Harrisburg Diocese was the first Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania to file for bankruptcy in the wake of that investigation. The statewide investigating grand jury led by Attorney General Josh Shapiro also found that church leaders had covered up the crimes.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee’s Office of the U.S. Middle District Court in March convened the victims committee that will oversee the diocese’s federal bankruptcy case.
Courts have been shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gainer delivered the news of the school closures to parents through a video message as a result of the social distancing restrictions.
He said Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic have operated in deficit for several years. As joint ministries of the Berwick and Lebanon area parishes, respectively, debts from the school’s operations become the responsibility of the parishes.
Holy Family, a K-5th grade school, currently has 62 students and 16 staff. Lebanon Catholic, a K-12 school, currently has just over 300 students and more than 40 staff members.
“We know and fully understand that this news is going to hit our families hard,” said Daniel Breen, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese. “We work to promote Catholic education in the Diocese and the closures we are announcing today are truly a last resort. We will be working closely with the leadership of both Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic and also with the families of these schools, to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
Diocese of Harrisburg enrolls nearly 10,000 students in its schools.
Enrollment in Catholic schools across the state as well as the country have been in sharp decline in recent years.
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