St. Mary school in New London set to close

New London - Economic troubles have forced St. Mary Star of the Sea School, a mainstay in the downtown since 1892, to announce it will close its doors for good at the end of the school year.

Enrollment in the 120-year-old Catholic elementary school, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, has been in decline. There are about 115 students currently attending kindergarten through eighth grade. At one time, the Huntington Street school taught close to 250 students.

"This is disappointing news given the persistent and determined efforts to keep each and every Catholic School in the diocese functioning and providing a quality education to Catholic and non-Catholic students through this extraordinary recession," said Diocese of Norwich spokesman Michael Strammiello. "St. Mary Star of the Sea School had served the community earnestly and well through many changes over the years in the community itself. It adapted so well. Unfortunately the economic challenges have proven overwhelming."

A release from John Shine, the superintendent of schools for the diocese, which oversees the school, called the closing of the school tragic as it is the only inner-city school in the diocese.

The school is about 60 percent Latino, 30 percent African American and 10 percent Caucasian. Roughly 30 percent of the students speak both English and Spanish. About 20 percent of the student population is non-Catholic.

But both the St. Mary parish and school combined owe approximately $750,000 to the diocese, the release says, meaning "there are insufficient resources available from all sources to be able to continue to justify" leaving the school open.

"While making this decision is most difficult, not making it is irresponsible," Shine wrote.

The release says families will be assisted in placing their students in the nearest Catholic school or other school of the family's choice.

Tuition is $2,600 for students whose families who are members of a Catholic parish, and $50 less for each sibling. Tuition for nonparishioners is $3,275 each and $50 less for each additional family member.

In the fall of 2011, in an effort to help increase enrollment, St. Mary's was to become the first Catholic school in the state to teach classes in English and Spanish. The five-year Dual-Language Initiative was supposed to start with kindergarten class.

With the blessing of Bishop Michael R. Cote and the Rev. Robert Washabaugh, pastor at St. Mary, the school applied for and received a $20,000 grant from the Shea Foundation and received for $50,000 from the Sullivan Foundation for the project.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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