Minn. Catholic school closings bring tears

10:25 AM, Feb 20, 2010   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Everyone says their school is like a family. Principal Jennifer Cassidy can offer plenty of proof that St. Bernard's really is.

For starters, her picture hangs in a main hallway along with the rest of the class of '82. Her children's pictures are one floor up, with their graduating classes.

"I actually have five generations of my family that came through the school," she says, pausing to hold back tears.

This may be the most difficult week in the 119 year history of St. Bernard's. On Thursday everyone learned St. Bernard's will be closing.

"It definitely was surreal," said Sophomore Azureya Blair as she ate lunch with her friends at school. "It's going to be the hardest thing I've had to do."

At roughly 50 students per grade, enrollment at St. Bernard's is a third what it was 30 years ago. The recession only made things worse as donors cut back and the number of students needing tuition assistance rose to nearly 80 percent.

"Approaching 80 percent is a lot of families and that certainly reduces the net tuition that we were receiving," said Cassidy. "The economy has really started taking its toll on some of our families."

St. Bernard's is one of two school closings announced by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Holy Childhood School, at 1435 Midway Parkway, will also close its doors this spring. Enrollment at the pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school had fallen from 172 students to 58.

"This school's been around for 60 years, so a lot of our parishioners sent their kids through here," said Bill Madigan, assistant principal at Holy Child.

St. Bernard's had already closed its elementary school, last year, hoping to concentrate on the upper grades. But turns out St. Bernard's was only buying time.

Cassidy says the school could not have survived as long as it did without successful fundraising. Among its projects, a landmark dinning hall at the Minnesota State Fair. Cassidy doubts St. Bernard's Parish will be able to keep the hall going without the labor provided by its school students.

In Jeff Maurer's religion class on Friday a student asked if all their fundraising work was for naught. "Don't ever feel what you have done has been for nothing," he reassured her.

As his students walked quietly out the classroom, Maurer wiped away a tear. "It's the reality of it. It's the kids that are killing me. It's all about them," said the graduate of the class of '69.

A death in the family is never easy.


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