Diocese is upbeat on Catholic school enrollment figures

Despite 5 closings, most students stay

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School closings and mergers in the Diocese of Pittsburgh this year helped to strengthen other Catholic schools, according to diocesan officials.

At an annual back-to-school news conference Monday, Robert Paserba, diocesan superintendent of schools, said that about 600 of 700 children affected by school closings or mergers remain in Catholic schools this fall.

In June, five Catholic schools closed and two others, Holy Rosary in Homewood and St. James in Wilkinsburg, merged to become Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy in the former St. James School building.

The five schools that closed are Holy Spirit in Millvale, St. John Neumann in Lawrenceville, St. John of God in McKees Rocks, St. Athanasius in West View and SS. Simon & Jude in Scott.

For example, of the 89 students in kindergarten through seventh grade at the end of the school year in June at St. John Neumann, 73 remain in Catholic schools, Dr. Paserba said.

And while some Catholic city schools have been struggling to maintain enrollment as demographics change, some saw increases partly because St. John Neumann closed.

Some of the schools likely to have been chosen by former St. John Neumann students include Immaculate Conception in Bloomfield, where enrollment grew from 179 to 250 students; St. Raphael in Morningside, which grew from 103 to 141; and Sacred Heart in Shadyside, which grew from 408 to 452.

The additional students may include some who did not previously attend a closed Catholic school.

At the new merged school in Wilkinsburg, parents found lower tuition. For the first Catholic child, tuition last year was $2,150 at St. James and $1,855 at Holy Rosary. Both charged $650 for the second Catholic child. The third child was free.

This year, the new merged school is charging $1,800 for the first Catholic child and $600 for the second Catholic child. The third child continues to be free.

Throughout the five-county diocese, tuition for the first Catholic student in a family in elementary school averages $3,200, an increase of about $100 over last year. At the high school level, the average of $7,900 is an increase of about $500 over last year.

On average, about 40 percent to 45 percent of Catholic students in the diocese receive some financial aid, although the percentage of those who do varies widely from school to school.

Catholic schools in the five-county Diocese of Pittsburgh opened the school year with about 23,000 students, including about 4,000 in pre-kindergarten, about 15,000 in K-8 and more than 4,000 in high school.

That continues a pattern of relatively stable enrollment in pre-K and high school and an overall decline of 3 percent to 4 percent in elementary schools, school officials said. In some areas, such as Cranberry and parts of the South Hills, elementary enrollment is growing.

The diocese has 91 pre-K and elementary schools and 12 high schools.

Diocesan officials still hope to build a new high school to replace the North Catholic High School building currently operating in Troy Hill. The diocese's real estate arm has purchased 71 acres on the north side of Route 228 in Cranberry, across from St. Kilian church and school property.

The Rev. Kris Stubna, secretary for Catholic education, said a capital campaign is under way to raise $20 million of the $60 million cost.

He said the diocese remains both "hopeful" and "very committed." While he said there has been "some success," he said, "Obviously with the state of the economy, it's been a very difficult time."

Correction/Clarification: (Published September 15, 2010) St. Joseph Catholic school in Coraopolis is open this school year. A story Tuesday about Catholic education incorrectly said it had closed in June. In addition, one school that has closed, St. Athanasius in West View, was omitted from a list of schools in the report.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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