Belleville Diocese announces closure of two Metro East Catholic schools
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
Two Metro East Catholic grade schools will shutter at the end of the school year amid declining enrollment, parish leaders announced Wednesday.
Notre Dame Academy in Belleville, formerly Cathedral Grade School, will close May 31, 2024, after serving Belleville’s Catholic community for more than 175 years, Cathedral Rector Rev. Godfrey Mullen said in a written announcement Wednesday.
St. Ann Grade School in Nashville will also close at the end of the academic year but will continue to operate its preschool, Rev. Andrew J. Knopik said in a separate letter.
Monsignor John Myler, spokesperson for the Diocese of Belleville, said the diocese, its Catholic Education office, and individual pastors and priests within the parishes will help families affected by the closures find other Catholic education programs in the region.
“If a Catholic parish loses its school, that does not mean it’s lost its children,” Myler said. “The church will walk with them now in the months to come to provide the very best that’s available for these kids.”
He explained that decisions about school closures are made at two levels. First, the parish and school decide whether they can continue into the future.
“In the case of both of these schools, the leadership of the parishes decided that it was not feasible to go into the next school year,” he said.
Leaders then met with Bishop Michael McGovern and the Catholic Education office, who made the decision to close the schools come springtime.
The primary factor resulting in the closures is declining enrollment, Myler said.
“It’s certainly not a declining enrollment because of dissatisfaction with the schools,” he said. “It’s declining enrollment because the number of children is so much smaller than it was 10, 20, 50 years ago.”
The enrollment at Notre Dame Academy is in the 80s, and St. Ann’s enrollment is “significantly smaller than that,” Myler said.
Notre Dame was formed in 2015 when Cathedral Grade School, which opened in 1847, merged with the previously-merged St. Mary-St. Augustine School after enrollment at Cathedral declined to 128.
Decades ago, Cathedral Grade School had more than 1,000 students, according to the Belleville Diocese.
With the dwindling enrollment, it becomes “financially impossible” to continue the schools as they’ve existed in the past, Myler said.
Other factors mentioned in Mullen’s announcement of Notre Dame’s closure are the difficulties of finding Catholic school teachers, wider population decline, aging buildings requiring more financial investment, insufficient funding for a balanced school budget and the recent discontinuation of a private school scholarship state tax credit.
“Because of all this, and after much prayer and significant analysis of the school and parish budgets, the Cathedral parish is no longer capable of providing the necessary financial support the school requires,” Mullen wrote.
“While this announcement is certainly not the outcome any of us has worked for or wanted, even amid our sadness, we have plenty of reason to be grateful.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hobbs, for your excellent and devoted work in guiding the parish’s educational enterprise over the last many years. Thanks, also, to our dedicated faculty and staff members for their commitment to Catholic Education, to our many parishioners, benefactors, and volunteers who have always been essential to the school, and to our students and their families for allowing us to work with them in the education of children.”
Kelly Smits is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.