St. John’s institute to bolster Catholic schools

A St. John's faculty member works with a student from St. Brigid's School in Manhattan. Photo courtesy of St. John's University
By Anna Gustafson

St. John’s University officials announced the launch of their Institute for Catholic Schools last week, which they said will strengthen religious education at a time when the private school system has seen its institutions shuttered and enrollment decrease.

The Institute for Catholic Schools will work with the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York to support the educational institutions. Officials elementary and offer teacher training and help for Catholic school boards at the elementary and high school level. The group, for example, hopes to create an endowment program that schools could access for financial help with student scholarships.

“We are happy to join hands with Catholic schools of our neighboring dioceses to address concerns within the current system and we believe this partnership will help Catholic schools to be even stronger in the days and years ahead,” said the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, president of St. John’s. “This will make a difference in the lives of current and future students.”

Within the last five years, 47 Catholic schools in Queens and Brooklyn have closed because of financial troubles and the Diocese of Brooklyn not long ago launched a large campaign to revitalize the religious institutions .

SJU officials have already been working with Catholic school leaders throughout the city, including at such Queens schools as Divine Wisdom in Douglaston, Most Holy Redeemer in Flushing, Notre Dame Catholic Academy in Ridgewood and Divine Mercy Academy in Ozone Park.

St. John’s’ leaders have aided the New York, Brooklyn and Rockville Center dioceses for the past several years in such areas as professional development in literacy and math, working with boards of directors and doing a data and demographic study of parishes and schools.

School officials recently decided it would make sense to restructure their efforts under one umbrella, the Institute for Catholic Schools — a move they said is especially needed in light of the decline in Catholic schools in the area as well as the country.

“We can create the best possible Catholic education system with an emphasis on Catholic identity,” said Mary Jane Krebbs, associate dean for graduate studies at SJU. “We need to show people that to have Catholic identity and values is worth the investment.”

Enrollment is also down in many Queens Catholic schools. Most Precious Blood in Long Island City, for example, has lost 18 percent of its population since 2006 and has gone from an enrollment of 424 students to about 172 this year. St. Michael’s School in Flushing has also lost students, going from about 193 students in 2006 to some 152 this year, which represents an 11 percent decrease.

The Rev. Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said SJU’s efforts to solidify Catholic education were helpful.

“I think in the long run Catholic education will be stronger, more attractive, more affordable and [of] better quality,” Harrington said.

Still, Harrington conceded more Catholic schools could close or consolidate because of financial pressures and enrollment declines could persist.

“I believe we’re in a new life cycle for Catholic education,” Krebbs said. “We may be a small system, but we can be a stronger system.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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