Enrollment and financial struggles lead to two school closures in Diocese of Trenton

Faced with declining enrollment and significant financial shortfalls, two Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Trenton will close this June. The news was shared Dec. 10 in separate meetings with the faculty, staff and families of Pope John Paul II Regional School in Willingboro, which is overseen by the Diocese, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Maple Shade, which is sponsored by OLPH Parish.

Pope John Paul II Regional School, which was established in 2006 as part of a comprehensive restructuring plan for Burlington County, has 113 students enrolled for the current school year, well below the 220-student benchmark cited as necessary for financial sustainability. The kindergarten through eighth grade school sits adjacent to Corpus Christi Church.

The four area parishes originally named as sponsors of the regional school model have experienced change, with some involved in parish mergers and others facing their own financial challenges.  As a result, funding from the sponsoring parishes has eroded, and the school’s support from the Diocese has risen to about $2.5 million.

In announcing the closure, JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of schools, acknowledged the value that Pope John Paul II Regional has brought to Catholic students in the area, and the family atmosphere for which the school was known.  She said, “It is difficult to close any Catholic school because of the values promoted and the environment provided.  Sadly, Pope John Paul II Regional School is no longer sustainable.  Its history will be a treasured memory for alumni and members of the school community. Sincere thanks are extended to the administration and faculty for their investment in the lives of the students over its years of operation.”

The closure of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, which has served the needs of Catholic school children in the Maple Shade area since 1928, was announced with great sadness by Father Joel Wilson, pastor.

The kindergarten through eighth-grade school has experienced a steady decline in enrollment over the past five years and all indications are that this decline will continue. There are currently 125 students, again, well below the 220-student benchmark. Moreover, since the late 1990s, the parish and school together have accumulated a $4.8 million debt to the Diocese and the parish is no longer able to cover the financial shortfall caused by the low enrollment numbers.

In making the announcement to parents, teachers and staff, Father Wilson said, “Our school has brought so much life into our community throughout its long and faithful legacy.  Our hearts are heavy as we acknowledge these financial difficulties and the inevitability of this decision.”

Father Wilson continued, “We are deeply grateful for the countless people who have supported the school over the decades, and we give thanks to God for the privilege of forming so many Catholic students in the faith.”

The Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools will be working with the two administrations to assist families in transitioning to another Catholic school in the respective areas.  There are 11 full-time and 11 part-time faculty and staff members in OLPH School, and 11 full-time and 6 part-time in Pope John Paul II Regional.  They will be offered support from the Diocese in their efforts to secure future employment.

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