August 1, 2014

Elyria
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St. Anthony, St. Thomas to join schools

St. Anthony and St. Thomas to come together in 2008

Only four miles separate St. Anthony of Padua School in Lorain and St. Thomas the Apostle School in Sheffield Lake, and come next school year, that gap will be closed as the two schools merge, according to officials at the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.

Faced with low enrollment numbers, the two schools have come to a decision to turn St. Anthony into the main kindergarten through eighth grade school. St. Thomas will close its doors at the end of the year to traditional students and reopen in the 2008-09 school year solely as a preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and a day care site for infants and toddlers.

Faculty and staff at St. Thomas learned of the decision early this week, and parents received a letter of notification Thursday. Ten St. Thomas teachers and support staff members will lose their jobs as a result, a soon-to-be unemployed worker said.“The staff is unbelievable and totally dedicated to the students. That’s why my heart just breaks for them,” said Krysten Thomascik, a preschool staff member and parent of two students at St. Thomas. “I had a feeling something was going on, but never did I imagine it would be this drastic.”

Thomascik has a daughter in the fourth grade who has attended St. Thomas since kindergarten. Her middle child, a first-grader with a learning disability, has attended it since preschool. Her plan was to keep her children at the school until eighth grade, she said.

Now, she said, public school likely will be the choice for next school year.

“I feel so connected to the teachers and staff at St. Thomas that I would feel sort of bad for them to send my kids to St. Anthony. St. Thomas is not like a traditional school. We are a huge family,” she said.

The Rev. Joseph West, pastor of St. Anthony, said the transition will be tough on all who have grown accustomed to St. Thomas, but he welcomes all students with open arms.

“Changes like this can be difficult for everyone involved, but we are going to do our best to make everyone feel welcome,” he said.

It was the hope of St. Thomas to add an eighth grade class in the 2008-09 school year, but because St. Anthony has the amenities to support more students, it was decided all students will go there, said Bob Tayek, spokesman for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.

West said St. Anthony’s financial situation is firmer than that of St. Thomas, something that also played heavily into the decision.

St. Anthony has a state-of-the-art computer lab, SmartBoards in the classrooms and a separate cafeteria and gymnasium. It also has more students, according to the 2007 diocese directory.

This school year, 175 students attend St. Anthony compared with 164 students at St. Thomas.

The merger fits well into second phase of the diocese’s Vibrant Parish Life Plan. Unveiled in June, the plan was developed by Bishop Richard Lennon as a way of reorganizing the church.

Lennon’s directives to the nine clusters of churches in Lorain County — encompassing 33 Catholic churches — include closures and mergers. The cluster that includes St. Thomas of the Apostle Church and School and St. Anthony of Padua Church and School also includes St. Teresa of Avila Church in Sheffield, and it was instructed to consider consolidating into a single, shared school.

“This is a direct result of the bishop’s plan for the churches. It just came earlier than the deadline of the end of 2008,” Tayek said. "This has been happening all over the region and will continue for some time.”

The Catholic educational system is in crisis across the country, Tayek added.

Thirty-five years ago, 90 percent of teachers were nuns, who didn’t require detailed and expensive contracts. Now, 90 percent of teachers in Catholic schools are laypeople who negotiate for better salaries and benefits. That, coupled with dwindling enrollment and tuition revenue, has created the crisis, he said.

“There’s no magic number, but a good benchmark for economic viability for any K through eight school is 200 students. But that number is harder to reach than imagined,” Tayek said.

That’s the situation being dealt with at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Elyria, where rumors have swirled through the week that it was closing.

Low enrollment numbers have forced parish officials to take a hard look at what the future will hold for its school. It has only 173 students, 16 students fewer than last school year’s count of 189 students, school officials said.

“I’ve told parishioners that we have to step up to the plate because the fact is we are facing financial problems due to declining enrollment,” the Rev. James Ols said. “We need to keep a close look at the finances of the school to ensure its future.”

As of Thursday, both Ols and Tayek reiterated that there are no plans to close St. Vincent de Paul School. Efforts are under way to see what can be done to solidify the school’s bottom line.

“The hope is to keep the school open in the future and that is what the parent/faculty co-op is working towards as a goal,” said Bob Renney, St. Vincent de Paul co-op president. “Nothing is even close to being decided and, in the meantime, we will continue to work to keep the school open."

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.