DELPHOS — Catholic schools have faced tough times for years, but the pace of closures is accelerating dramatically amid economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, sparking heartbreak and anger in scores of affected communities.
“It’s not a pretty picture right now,” said Sister Dale McDonald, public policy director of the National Catholic Educational Association, which says about 100 schools have announced in recent weeks that they won’t reopen this fall. McDonald fears that number could more than double in the coming months.
This year’s closures will reduce the number of Catholic K-12 schools in the United States to about 6,000, down from more than 11,000 in 1970, according to the Catholic education association. Overall enrollment has plummeted from more than 5 million in the 1960s to about 1.7 million now.
Most of the closures are occurring at the elementary level.
In our area, Catholic education seems to be doing OK despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Here in Delphos, we have a long tradition of Catholic education and the Catholic community supports it pretty generously,” said Father Dennis Walsh, superintendent of Delphos St. John’s school. “In 1976, they started a foundation that supports the parish and the school. They’ve kind of shifted paradigms quite a while ago in terms of how they’re going to support their school. it was really a lot of foresight that they had in 1976 when they started a foundation, and so that’s going to open up a lot of legacies that are given for the support of the parish and the school. We wouldn’t be able to operate a school without that foundation for sure.”
Delphos St. John’s did have to enact temporary layoffs during the pandemic.
“We just weren’t sure what the collections were going to do in the offertory but people have responded pretty generously. The (federal) payroll protection program helped a lot in terms of recalling employees but we left all of our teachers in place and they continue to do the online learning so we haven’t made any financial cuts,” Walsh said.
Some ongoing fundraisers have been derailed due to COVID-19.
“Our spring benefit auction had to be canceled,” said Nate Stant, Delphos St. John’s Elementary School principal. “Some of our other ongoing fundraisers in terms of weekly collections and so without having Mass open for some time there obviously (affected us). The Knights of Columbus golf outings are on hold for now. Funds obviously have been hit, but again, that’s where some of that tradition and that foundation and, just reaching out to our parishioners and letting them know or just being in communication with them and, our weekly giving has picked back up.”
Likewise, Lima’s Catholic schools are helped by a foundation.
“For over 125 years, the Lima Catholic Schools have had strong community support,” said Kayla Nocera, director of enrollment for Lima Catholic Schools. “This support is evermore present in recent years as evidenced by the overwhelming commitment to the joint Sustain Retain Enhance capital campaign initiated by the Lima Central Catholic Educational Foundation. One of the goals of the current campaign aims to increase financial aid to make a Catholic education more affordable for families in the Lima area.”
Enrollment hasn’t suffered here as it has in other places.
“Despite what may be happening with Catholic schools in other parts of the country, the Lima Catholic schools preschool-eighth grade buildings show a steady enrollment increase with the high school projecting an enrollment increase in the next five years,” Nocera said.
In Ottawa, at SS. Peter & Paul School, they are even looking at building projects.
An article in the church’s parish bulletin paints a positive picture of future progress.
“On May 29, we received the contractor bids for the eight new classrooms to be added to the Locust St. building. Thirteen contractors were asked to bid. We received competitive bids from six contractors. In addition, we also requested bids for the new gym. These projects comprise phase 1 and phase 2 of our capital campaign Honoring Our Tradition by Building for the Future. We are very pleased and blessed to report that the bids came in 29% less than our original estimates of the cost for these projects. These guaranteed bids allow us to consider building the gym right now along with the 8 classrooms. With the campaign pledges raised thus far along with the funds we have remaining from the 2007 project we can build the gym now by raising an additional $425,000 this summer.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.