Parents, faculty and alumni react to St. Louis Catholic school closures

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:58 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Two cherished institutions that have been a staple to the St. Louis Catholic Community for decades are now facing closure.

“I was devastated. I’ve been going to campus since I was a kid,” said Bobby Schillinger.

Schillinger is a Junior at St. Mary’s High School in South City. Tuesday night, he and his family learned the Archdiocese of St. Louis decided to close the all-boys school after serving the Catholic community since 1931.

“When you look at this school, and what goes on here. I think it’s a model for what this region could be,” said Bobby’s father, Bob Schillinger, who is also an alumnus of the school. “I challenge you to find a more diverse school in the state of Missouri and not [just] racially diverse, but economically diverse, academically diverse.”

Up in the Central West End, staff and alumni at Rosati-Kain High School also mourned the archdiocese’s decision to close down the city’s sole all-girls Catholic high school.

“It helped shape me into the person that I am,” said Michelle Martin Bonner, a Rosati-Kain Alumnus. “I love this school, [and] I love the women that have come behind me and come before me…all the entrepreneurs, all the businesswomen.”

“I am sad beyond words right now,” said Alexis Ensley Puglisi, director of marketing and communications for Rosati-Kain.

They say the news came as a shock.

“It is a heartbreaking decision. I think the school is vibrant. I think the school is necessary,” said Rosati-Kain faculty member Sarah Morris. “I think it is full of diversity and beautiful, unique, individual young people, that I have had the privilege to teach for the past 24 years, and I am going to miss it so much. It has been my life and I love my students.”

On Wednesday leaders from the Archdiocese of St. Louis spoke out about their decision to close both schools at the end of the school year.

“In order to be good stewards of the gifts given to us, we have decided that this school year will be the last for Rosati-Kain High School and St. Mary’s High School,” said The Most Reverend Mitchell T. Rozanski, Archbishop of St. Louis.

Rozanski says the decision comes after years of studying declining trends in enrollment at both schools. He says enrollment at St. Mary’s has declined 31 percent over the last 10 years while enrollment at Rosati-Kain has declined over 50 percent in the same time frame.

“We all know that times change, demographics change, those influxes of immigrants that came over in the late 1800s, early 1900s all the way through the 1920s, has certainly stopped and it affected our demographics,” said Rozanski. “So, we have to respond realistically to that, and that’s why we find ourselves in this situation.”

The Archdiocese says this decrease in enrollment has reduced the amount in income from tuition revenue to pay for teachers, staff operating expenses and building maintenance. As part of its new strategic planning effort called “All Things New,” the Archdiocese says it has been looking at ways to maintain a vibrant Catholic presence in the community. It says this move is a part of that plan.

“Many people will question how decisions like the ones made today have that sort of an impact. But as we all know, the City of St. Louis, the Archdiocese of St. Louis continues to see dramatic changes in demographics, in religious participation amongst other factors,” said Father Chris Martin. “And the mode of evangelization continues to adapt and change. So having a vibrant presence in every area of the Archdiocese doesn’t necessarily mean that we maintain all of the current ministries we have in all the current locations.”

Martin added, “While the full plan of ‘All Things New’ is not expected to be completed until Pentecost of 2023, we needed to make these decisions now in order to deal justly with all of our school families, scholarship recipients, teachers, administrators.”

St. Mary’s President Mike England says these institutions are crucial to the community as much as they are to the foundation of Catholic education in St. Louis.

“We’re very involved in our community and our neighborhood, we have an annual day of service where we shut the school down. The entire school community goes out into the neighborhood. Cut grass, take out the trash. We have service Saturdays where we go out and do the same thing,” said England.

“This place needs to stay open. It’s too special not to,” said Bob Schillinger.

However, England says this separation from the Archdiocese does not mean the end for St. Mary’s as an institution.

“We are looking at alternative options right now to move away from the Archdiocese and operate as an independent Catholic high school and continue the mission here on the south side,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is engaging all of our constituents that can help us to put our plan together and be not just a little successful, a lot successful. We can’t just do this and operate year to year, paycheck to paycheck. We’ve got to put this together in a way that allows us to continue this mission, not just next year, not just two years, well into the future, and doing this work better than we’ve done before.”

England tells News 4 the goal is to come up with a plan over the next couple of months as to how to continue operating independently of the Archdiocese. Rosati-Kain leaders say nothing is set in stone as to what their next steps will be.

“Hopefully they can get the money, make St. Mary’s independent, keep the St. Mary’s mission going, keep helping students, [and] keep giving students quality catholic education,” said Bobby.

Julie Scott Soffner with the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation says there are 88 students between both high schools that are on scholarships given through their foundation.

“These scholarship awards will remain in place for St. Mary’s and Rosati-Kain students who complete their academic year at their current school,” said Soffner. “In the next month, Today and Tomorrow will personally contact each St. Mary’s and Rosati-Kain family so we can begin the discussion on their scholarship needs.”