By Joe Anuta
A storied Catholic school in College Point is set to close in the spring, ending more than 150 years of providing education for the area, but a College Point civic association is trying to turn the site into a public school.
St. Fidelis School will permanently close its doors in June, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees Queens.
“St. Fidelis School will be fully operational until the last day of school, continuing to provide a quality education,” said Monsignor Denis Heron, administrator at the institution. “We place our trust in God and ask His guidance as we move into the future. We ask your understanding and cooperation.”
St. Fidelis first opened its doors in 1857, but in recent years was faced with declining enrollment and increased operating costs, according to the diocese.
Five years ago, the school served 242 students from kindergarten to eighth-grade. This year that number has declined to 144 students, the diocese said.
Any school enrolling fewer than 225 students is considered at-risk of closing, according to diocese policy.
St. Fidelis was bleeding money as well. While tuition ran about $3,400 per child, that child cost more than $6,000 to educate over the same period, according to the diocese, and the church could not make up the difference.
But Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said raising tuition was not the answer.
“It’s more than money,” he said. “If you raise tuition, then you make it less affordable for parents.”
Instead, the diocese will focus on a plan to convert parochial schools from their current model into what are known as Catholic academies, where leadership is expanded to encompass volunteers known as lay administrators to help run the schools.
The children who currently attend St. Fidelis will have the option of attending other parish schools instead, Chadzutko said. Principals from nearby Holy Trinity, St. Luke’s, St. Mel’s and Most Holy Redeemer have been holding open houses and making arrangements to absorb some of the orphaned pupils.
In response to the news, Andrew Rocco, president of the College Point Civic & Taxpayers Association, created a petition to convert St. Fidelis into a public school once the diocese leaves.
“I am asking all residents of College Point and former students of St. Fidelis to please join me and sign this petition with me for the purpose of allowing the St. Fidelis School building to remain open as a public school in the future,” he said in a statement, adding that the increased development in the neighborhood should be a wake-up call to the city that more seats will soon be needed.
No other schools in the Brooklyn Diocese were slated for closure this year, a spokeswoman said, but in the neighboring Archdiocese of New York is set to shutter 22 schools, according to multiple reports.
The church at St. Fidelis will remain open, since its robust attendance has remained steady at about 1300 parishioners each Sunday, according to a diocese spokeswoman.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.