Local woman raises money to save alma mater from closure as Brooklyn’s Catholic schools struggle with enrollment

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Catholic school students welcomed Bishop Robert Brennan for the first day of school in 2023. Three Catholic schools are set to close permanently this year.
File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Catholic academies in Brooklyn may be edging closer to extinction, with at least three Catholic schools set to close permanently at the end of this year.

A graduate of St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Academy — an elementary school at the corner of East 45th Street and Avenue D — is raising funds in an attempt to save her alma mater from closing its doors.

The Diocese of Brooklyn notified families, faculty and staff earlier this month that this school year would be its last because they were unable to meet enrollment and financial goals in time. Only 122 students had registered for the fall term at the school, the Board of Trustees told families in a May 1 letter, well short of their goal of 176 students. Back in 2014, the school had a total enrollment of 319. 

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St. Catherine-St. Therese announced that it would close next month on May 1. Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Argathe Michaud, the former student pushing to save the school, is just one of many parents who are wondering how the school moved toward closure so quickly, and why students were given only months to deal with the ramifications of the decision. 

“Parents are frustrated because they were just notified of the closing but it seems the school might have known a few months before,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “They’re rallying, trying to see if they can find a grant writer. They’re actively trying to save the school.”

In the statement to families, the Board of Trustees said enrollment at Catholic elementary schools has been declining over the past 25 years, which it attributed to society walking away from Christian values, alternative school options and rising costs and debts when maintaining Catholic academies. 

“It is with deep sorrow and regret that we inform you of the closure of St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Academy at the end of June 2024. After much toil, labor, and countless hours of work from staff and volunteers, we were unable to meet the enrollment and fundraising goals set at our March 20th meeting with our parents, faculty and staff,” the letter to families read.

Michaud’s online fundraiser has raised $120 of its $100,000 goal since launching on May 1 — the same day the school alerted community members of its impending closure and a month away from actual closing date. Her fundraising amount is based on her assumption of what would help the school, and not what the school needs to stay open.

“I am an alumnus, class of 2006. This school parish has been in our community since 1923. Our children are losing their school, their teachers are losing their jobs, the community is losing a piece of itself,” Michaud wrote. ” … any donation will help make an impact.”
There had not been any public updates as of mid-May, Michaud said, but school leaders have met with parents to hear their concerns. Community members are also meeting with local civic leaders including Assembly Member Monique Chandler-Waterman to share their grievances, she added. 
In a May 1 statement, Superintendent Kevin McCormack said the decision to close the schools came “after a thorough review of the pattern of student enrollment and the financial condition of each academy.”
“These three schools, in the midst of this most difficult time, will focus on celebrating their students and preparing them for the next chapter of their education,” McCormack said. 

Three local Catholic schools are set to close next month

St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Academy joins a roster of other Catholic schools closing this summer, including Salve Regina Catholic Academy in East New York and Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge. 
After the diocese announced that Visitation Academy would close, parents from the school started an online campaign called “Save Visitation,” seeking to discover how the closure came about and what can be done to save it. Parents said they were told an ad hoc commission has determined that the Sisters of the Visitation must leave their monastery in Brooklyn — and without the sisters, the school must close. Only two nuns remain at the monastery. 
Nadia Mastromichalis, who has two daughters enrolled at Visitation, previously told Brooklyn Paper that parents “have not been given answers” as to what exactly drove the decision to close the monastery and the school. School officials had reassured parents for years that everything was fine, even as rumors that Visitation Academy was struggling financially swirled. 
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Parents at Visitation Academy are frustrated by what they feel is a lack of transparency. File photo courtesy of Google Maps
“Many options could have been taken to save VA that were simply not,” the Save Visitation website reads. “Ultimately, the profit from the sale of the land was more important than the survival of the school and continuation of its Catholic presence here in Bay Ridge.” 
The group proposed forming an Association of the Christian Faithful, a team that would act as the canonical sponsor of a Catholic institution; reviewing options presented by the Board of Trustees to Mother Susan Marie Kasprzak, the Mother Superior of the Visitation Monastery, or allowing parents and alumni to raise money for the school. 
According to Michaud, families from St. Catherine of Genoa-St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Academy are just like those of Visitation who are currently doing everything they can to save the academies and avoid having to place their students in other institutions. The diocese has promised to find all students who wish to continue their Catholic education seats at other schools in the area.
“For parents that want to send their kids to Catholic schools, the selection is getting slimmer and slimmer,” she said. “With schools closing, the problem is that other schools will start to get overcrowded and then students won’t get the attention that they need because of the larger class sizes. Students don’t effectively work like that.”