By Briana Vannozzi
In Montclair, it’s another battle to keep the doors open of a nearly century old parochial school. Immaculate Conception High is the latest on the list slated for closure.
Once a fixture in the landscape of education, Catholic schools are struggling to stay afloat.
“We’ve been told we need to raise about $500,000 and we’ve raised over $350,000 in 23 days and we’ve done that by working together,” said Immaculate Conception High School Development Director Celia Honohan.
Even in a state with the second largest population of Catholics in the nation, enrollment continues to decline. The number of mergers and closings has remained somewhat steady over the last five years.
Within the five archdiocese in New Jersey, Newark — the largest — had the most with 19. Metuchen followed with eight, Paterson and Camden each had seven and Trenton just one.
Dr. Margaret Dames is the superintendent of schools for the Newark Archdiocese. She’s part of a new marketing strategy to get those numbers up.
“Enough people do not know how good Catholic schools are and I think that’s key. I also think affordability,” she said.
The campaign, called “Lighting the Way” aims to fix both those problems. It touts strong academics, a 100 percent graduation rate, an emphasis on values and a new way to provide funding.
“As of July 1 of this year, instead of one parish having to fund a school, which was the parish model, we actually are asking all of our parishes to join with us in a stewardship to provide funding for all our Catholic schools. So the burden of finances is not on one school,” said Dames.
To get a sense of just how widespread the issue is, the National Catholic Education Association, which tracks this data, says nearly 2,000 schools have closed nationwide in the last decade.
For students like Akilah Love of Immaculate being uprooted has become a mainstay of her school career.
“I have no idea where I’d be next year. I know that public school is not an option. My grandmother said if the school closes down and God forbid, we’ll have to find another Catholic school and I’ll have to travel very early in the morning to get to those schools. Public school, she said it’s not gonna happen,” Love said.
“What do they want the children to do?” asked parent Angela Henderson. “They expect to move on. It’s easy to pick up and just reroute but it still leaves a scar.”
So for now, Catholic churches will have to keep working to increase parishioners and in turn enrollment while students and parents here keep the faith.