St. Bernard community hopeful for its future
Montville ― As a cloud of uncertainty looms over the future of St. Bernard School, the school’s community remains hopeful that it is not going anywhere.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich filed a bankruptcy plan late Tuesday which included a plan to sell St. Bernard School and the 113 acres of land it sits on.
On Thursday morning, Head of School Don Macrino addressed the student body shortly after morning announcements. He said he sent an emailed letter to families on Wednesday night with the news of “the possible sale of Saint Bernard School as a result of a really complicated bankruptcy process.”
“I want you to know, first of all, that your school life will not be interrupted this year,” Macrino said. “At this point there is just a proposal for a sale. We’re not certain where it’s going to go. If that should take place, we’ll work with the unknown buyer, as soon as we know who that is, to secure the future of your school.”
Macrino opened his office to both students and parents who have questions about the situation.
“Our desire is to keep this wonderful school going for many years to come and I feel confident that with your support, the support of your parents and our community, we’re going to be successful in doing that,” Macrino concluded, urging students to go on with their “normal routine.”
The diocese and school officials said Wednesday that they hope to be able to lease back the land ― which has been appraised by the Town of Montville at $21 million ― from the unidentified buyer, so the 67-year-old Catholic school can continue to operate. It serves 400 students from across the region in grades six through 12.
Students, parents and faculty members shared their concerns with The Day prior to the start of school Thursday morning. Though the situation was called “confusing” everyone who spoke shared a positive outlook and pointed to the strong school community and its longevity.
“I think that families that pray together stay together and I think that we’ll definitely still be around and I’m really not that worried about it because this is a great school, a great establishment,” said Sienna Sferrazza, a junior from Waterford. “It’s been here forever. I have faith that we can persevere through this.”
Like a number of students, Sferrazza and her sister Capri, an 8th-grade student, come from a line of St. Bernard Alum. Their father attended the school in the 1990s.
“I think it’s a really good community here and there’s great students and teachers,” Capri said.
Ed Murphy, a class of 2000 graduate, said he has one child currently enrolled and one who recently applied. He said his experience “absolutely” played a part in choosing to enroll his children and pointed to the “close-knit” community the school fosters.
Murphy said he is concerned for the students, staff and faculty and “the tradition that St. Bernard represents and how that’s going to look in the future,” and the impact it will have on his family.
He said he shared the news with his children Wednesday night, anticipating it would be discussed Thursday, to make sure they were informed.
“Hopefully its a good outcome,” Murphy said.
Montville resident Rachel Novak said she had a graduate in the class of 2015 and her daughter, Sophia, is a current senior. She chose St. Bernard because she admired “their values and standards and their college prep.”
“It’s very upsetting,” Novak said. “I hope the school doesn’t close. There’s a lot of kids that benefit from a smaller classroom setting so hopefully they will be able to remain open.”
“It was kind of surprising at first,” Sophia said. “It was kind of confusing, too.”
Sophia, a member of the national art honor society and softball team, said she’s been enrolled at the school since her freshman year.
“The staff is really nice and understanding and they really care about you and they want to make you succeed,” she added.
Junior student Colin O’Leary, a member of the basketball and baseball teams, said he was also surprised and hopes the school can stay open. He said he’s been enrolled since 6th grade.
“I think it’s like a great environment,” O’Leary said. “There’s not a lot of kids so everyone knows each other and is kind to one another.”
Nikita Shovkomud, a junior, and Genya Voynova, a sophomore, are from Ukraine and in their first year at the school. Like their classmates, each shared their confusion around the sale and have enjoyed their time there.
“I love the education,” Voynova said. “I love the teachers, how they treat the students. They treat us as friends.”
“I really appreciate this school and all it’s doing for all people,” Shovkomud said.
Montville resident Tanya Lutyen said she was unaware of the news before the school day. She said her daughter is a sixth-grader and “really likes” the learning environment.
“Well, I hope it doesn’t change the environment if it remains open,” Lutyen said. “I was hoping she could stay here through high school.”
Ted Kenyon, the assistant head of school for the last seven years, said he’s most enjoyed being a part of the St. Bernard community and having a sense of shared values. While he addressed the uncertainty for the future, he said the focus continues to be delivering the best education possible to students.
“Our focus remains today going back to work, going back to teaching students, going back to being good role models for students and going forward as best we can,” Kenyon said.
Patsy Fowler, the head of the English department and assistant athletic director, is in her sixth year with the school and said she was “taken aback” by the surprising news.
Fowler said it’s “impossible” not to have concerns about the future and said the uncertainty has been the hardest part.
“However, I have a great deal of faith in the strength of the faculty and the student body and our place in the community because we’ve been around for a long time,” Fowler added.
Like others, the strong sense of community has been a bright spot in her time with the school.
“It truly is a good community,” Fowler said. “People take care of each other here. They worry about each other and take care of each other and that’s nice.”