In more than four decades of coaching girls’ basketball at Lebanon Catholic High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, Patti Hower had led the team to three state championships and 20 district titles. This year, there were high hopes again.
But then in April, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg announced that the school was permanently closing, citing insurmountable financial stress, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We never thought, ‘Hey, we’re never going to get on that court together again as a team,’” said Ms. Hower, 68, who attended the school, like her father and granddaughters.
As schools around the country debate how to reopen safely, a growing number of Catholic schools — already facing declining enrollments and donations from before the pandemic — are shutting down for good.
About 150 Catholic schools have closed, said Kathy Mears, the director of the National Catholic Educational Association, equal to about 2 percent of the 6,183 schools that were up and running last year. The number of closures is at least 50 percent higher this year than in previous years, she said.
As parents and families lost their jobs during the pandemic, many could no longer pay tuition at Catholic schools. And when churches began shutting down to curb the spread of the virus, that also ended a major source for donations — some of which would normally be allotted for parish schools.
ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main story
Among the best-known Catholic schools shutting its doors is the Institute of Notre Dame, an all-girls facility in Baltimore. Some alumni are fighting to keep the school open, upset that school leaders haven’t pushed harder to avoid closure.
Drena Fertetta, an alumnus who graduated from Notre Dame in 1983, began a group dedicated to reopening the school next year, perhaps at a different site.
“There is just a sisterhood that happens to the girls who go to that school,” Ms. Fertetta said. “It’s not something we’re willing to just walk away from.”