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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Dear unknown buyer: Please keep St. Bernard open forever

    News that the Norwich Diocese must sell St. Bernard and its 113 acres to help a proposed bankruptcy plan triggered a paralyzing emotion in many of us during the day Thursday: fear.

    The worst kind of fear — of the unknown — came tethered to the words of Don Macrino, St. Bernard’s Head of School, whose letter to alumni and donors alluded to “the unknown buyer” and “convincing the buyer of the school’s importance to eastern Connecticut.”

    There is no need, especially this early in the process, to become alarmist. But make no mistake. There is great pause for all of us when Macrino, forever earnest and honest, conveys the message that an unknown buyer needs to be convinced to keep St. Bernard as is.

    I go back 40 years with the School On The Hill, back to my freshman year of high school at Xavier — another school on the diocesan sell list — to when I was the freshman manager of the basketball team. My first trip to 1593 Norwich New London Turnpike came on Harold Pressley’s senior night. I learned the meaning of the word “awestruck,” after seeing Rollie Massimino and Digger Phelps in the crowd.

    My sports background helped me view St. B’s as a time-honored rival with people for whom I grew to respect unconditionally: Art Lamoureux, Doug Sharples, Jim Leone, Dave Pesapane, Bob Demars, Jim Powers and many others. Yes, in my professional life, I’ve written some uncomplimentary things over the years. But I’ve never, ever viewed St. Bernard as anything but a pillar.

    And it is with the utmost respect that I summon Lamoureux, a 46-year English teacher and still, to me, the conscience of the school, for a word to the unknown buyer.

    “The history of the school,” Lamoureux said Thursday morning, “and its effect on eastern Connecticut, I would hope is apparent. Hopefully, the buyer or buyers have it in the kindness of their heart the ability to keep St. Bernard ongoing.”

    Amen to that.

    It is difficult, although fruitless for the purpose of this discourse, to resist comment on the underlying reason for the school’s sale. But I must ask the diocese why the kids — always the kids — are always the first to be dumped into the morass.

    We all understand by now why the diocese needs the money. But let me ask: Has anyone from the diocese stepped into a church lately?

    How many souls in the church under the age of 50?

    Hence, if you want to develop old Catholics, don’t you need a place to train young Catholics? How does imperiling the existence of St. Bernard (Mercy and Xavier, too) provide even a glimmer of hope for the future?

    I’d like to know why the schools are first on the list. Why does, for example, New London and its 5.62 square miles need two Catholic churches, St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s? Why can’t the diocese keep one and sell the other?

    Why does East Lyme need St. Agnes and St. Matthias? I get that East Lymers think they need to pack a lunch to make the drive from Niantic all the way up Route 161. But in dire circumstances, why does such a small town need two Catholic churches?

    And then comes the granddaddy of them all: My hometown, Middletown, has four Catholic churches run by the diocese in a 10-mile radius. Why does Middletown need St. Francis, St. Mary’s, St. Sebastian’s and St. John’s?

    What, they can’t close and sell two of them and still serve the town ably?

    The answer: The diocese cannot sell any of the church properties because it does not own them. Each parish is a separate corporation. That’s why the 51 individual parishes had to join the bankruptcy. If they had not done so, as separate corporations, they could be sued by victims and be on the hook for all the damages. The diocese couldn't be sued once it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

    So the kids and the subsequent livelihoods of staff, faculty and administration must fear the unknown.

    Catholic schools are the lone bridges remaining between Catholic traditions and the current events. Once again: Judging from the average age of the average church goer in 2023, the bridges are crumbling. They need repair. Not demolition.

    St. Bernard opened its doors in 1956. Its contribution to society goes even beyond its noble mission, right to the kind of people it educated and thrust back into society.

    It deserves to stay open.

    And that an unknown buyer needs to be convinced of the school’s efficacy after more than 60 years is nearly as odious as why bankruptcy was necessary in the first place.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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