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Fight to save Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School

Out of time! Faith eroding among Bishop Ford activists

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That’s them on the corner. That’s them in the spotlight. Losing their religion.

Concerned Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School faithful rallied on Sunday to demand that the school’s board of directors consider an alternate budget they created that calls for saving the school through private fund-raising. The impending June closure of the school and the plan’s lack of traction with school administrators is causing some embittered advocates to question their very beliefs.

“I’m actually losing my faith,” said Peter DiGeronimo, whose son is a junior at the school. “I haven’t gone to church in two weeks.”

The school’s principal Thomas Arria shocked parents, students, and graduates of the school when he announced in April that Bishop Ford would close its doors in June. He cited declining enrollment numbers when explaining the decision to turn off the lights and the Brooklyn Diocese pointed to massive debts from unpaid payroll taxes and outstanding loans it made to the struggling school in years past.

The Brooklyn Diocese ceded control of its Catholic schools in the 1970s, turning them over to independent boards of directors. During the past few years, the Diocese lent Bishop Ford more than $1 million, hoping the extra cash would help the school save itself. But in an interview posted on New Evangelization Television, a news website owned by the Diocese, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said the church simply does not have the money to front anymore.

“It was impossible for the Diocese to lend more money,” he told the religious outlet. “We don’t have the money in the Diocese to bail out all the schools that are in trouble.”

School-boosters turned activists presented the school’s board of directors with a plan to raise $2 million through fund-raisers to keep the school open for another year, but the board refused to vote on it, the group said.

Bishop DiMarzio put the cost of saving the school at $5 million and one student said his refusal to put up the cash that would be a saving grace shows his true colors.

“If the Bishop was a good Catholic, he wouldn’t shut the doors,” said Christopher Malcaus, a senior at the school. “This is our home away from home.”

Some school advocates accuse the church of making a cynical attempt to cash in on the valuable Windsor Terrace property it occupies. The church denies the charge, saying it had to cut off its dependent before running out of cash itself.

“It was impossible for the Diocese to lend more money,” DiMarzio said.”

The property is zoned residential and could be redeveloped into a four-story apartment building without any special permission from the city, but the Diocese typically rents buildings out rather than selling them off, according to one legendary realtor.

“They have plenty of sites in primary locations,” said Chris Havens, an associate broker for aptsandlofts.com, referring to the Diocese. “But they’ve been leasing.”

Parents and alumni lament not hearing about the school’s dire financial condition sooner. Extra time could have helped them save the school, they said.

“I feel like we were deceived,” said Anthony DeVito, who graduated from Bishop Ford in the 1970s and sent his three kids there. “We didn’t have the time to fund-raise.”

An online fund-raiser with a $2 million goal, aimed at saving the school, had collected $37,578 by Monday afternoon.

The sensitive rock group R.E.M., famous for its smash hit “Losing My Religion,” filmed a music video for the song “All the Way to Reno” at Bishop Ford.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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