NBCPhiladelphia.com- Rosemary Connors
Students, parents and alumni gathered Friday night to mourn the loss of their school. It is one of dozens slated for closure by the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Friday that it will be closing four of its high schools and 44 of its elementary schools, shocking the community.
Officials from Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast, West Catholic, St. Hubert and Conwell Egan were informed Friday morning that their schools will be closing at the end of the school year in June.
Officials also confirmed that 44 out of the 156 elementary schools in the Archdiocese will be closing as well.
Among the elementary schools to close in June, Annunciation BVM in Havertown, St. Cyril of Alexandria in East Lansdowne, Our Lady of Fatima in Secane, St. Gabriel in Norwood, Holy Savior-St. John Fisher in Linwood, St. Francis de Sales in Aston and St. John Chrysostom.
Students from BVM will attend St. Denis, those from St. Cyril will head to St. Andrew in Drexel Hill, Fatima students will attend Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Gabe students will attend St. Madeline-St. Rose in Ridley Park, Holy Savior-St. John students will move to St. Joseph's in Aston, St. Francis kids will move to St. Thomas the Apostle in Glen Mills and St. John students will attend Nativity BVM in Media.
Currently, there are 178 schools serving about 68,000 students – a 35 percent drop in enrollment since 2001. In the past five years, the archdiocese has closed 30 schools.
The schools have suffered for years from rising costs and dwindling enrollment. Higher tuition, shifting demographics and the rise of charter schools have siphoned off many students.
The closings come as such a shock to the Philadelphia-area community that the term "West Catholic" was trending on Twitter after the announcement.
Supporters fear the archdiocese's Blue Ribbon Commission will recommend further closings.
Officials with the archdiocese held a news conference at 4 p.m. Friday to discuss the findings of a year-long analysis of the struggling Catholic school system.
"We need an honest response to serious losses that have been happening year after year in some of our schools," said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. "And this will continue to happen if we do nothing."
The archdiocese plans to put the new school system in place by the end of the year. While they will try to place the teachers at the different schools that are staying open, the archdiocese says at least 300 teachers will likely be laid off.
Students at the ousted schools reacted strongly to the news.
"Heartbreaking, it felt like a part of me died," said Anthony Moore, a student at West Catholic High School. "I can't even explain it, it just hurts."
"I was mad and I was really upset," said another student. "I'm a junior and our class is really close. We're going to all split up for senior year and not get to graduate together. It's just going to be really upsetting."
Students at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill gathered at their football field where they chanted and lit candles to show their school pride.
"We didn't see it coming," said Danielle Millio, a freshman at Archbishop Prendergast. "We all just kind of broke down and we didn't know how to react."
"She's going to be a senior and she's an athlete," said Jean Ann Vogelman, a parent of one of the students. "Really she should be worried about looking at colleges not looking at High Schools. There are 900 students on this campus which is more students than there are at some of the other campuses that have been spared which leaves you a little confused."
While some parents say they're looking at several schools for their kids to attend next year, they're also hoping they can appeal the archdiocese's decision.
St. George Elementary School in Port Richmond held an emergency meeting where they talked about fighting the closings.
"We just have to fight, we just can't let them do this," said Karen Szczepanski, a parent of one of the students. "We're a small parish and we're fighting on our own. Why are they bothering us? It's not fair."
At St. Hubert High School in Northeast Philadelphia, more than 200 students rallied, chanting "keep us open," and "let's go, we won't go."
"Everybody was emotional," said one student. "We were all crying, hugging each other."
Conwell Egan in Bucks County hosted a basketball game against Monsignor Bonner on Friday. It was the start of what will be the final basketball season for both programs.
"I was weeping," said one student. "This is my 13th year of Catholic School."
Affected elementary schools and high schools are planning more meetings. Small parishes such as St. George are trying to find ways to raise money so that they can keep their doors open.