If it ain’t broke, why close it?

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Photo by Phyllis McCabe.

Attitude is everything. Only days before National Catholic Schools Week during which Catholic education is celebrated with the goal of raising a new generation of practitioners, St. Joseph’s School and found itself New York Archdiocese’s soon-to-be-axed-from-working-toward-that-goal-list.

Nearly a week after the announcement was made that the school would be closed after this educational year wraps up, Timothy McNiff, superintendent of education for the archdiocese, visited St. Joe’s Monday evening to tour the facilities and review the curriculum. It was a diocese official’s first visit since the school was first placed on the endangered list in 2008.

The 100-year-old school seems to be one of Catholic education’s success stories. It’s been turning out very impressive state standardized test scores, is financially solvent and draws students from 30 towns. It offers a comprehensive music program, its Mighty Pawns chess team is a statewide force and it’s well-represented in Math Olympiads. The school offers language programs, a Hispanic Catechism and weekly children’s morning Mass, all without taking one penny from the archdiocese.

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Even after the public became aware of the decision to close it, St. Joseph’s still enrolled a half-dozen brand-new students during its Catholic Schools Week Open House on Sunday, which saw more than 70 people. Kingston Catholic also enjoyed a robust open house, but school officials there declined a request to be interviewed for this report.

Mystified

Longtime St. Joseph’s Financial Committee Chairman Paul DeLisio said he is mystified by the archdiocese’s decision to close such a successful school. “My feelings are, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? For this community here you have a million-dollar budget of a business, [Kingston Catholic] running successfully in downtown Kingston. Uptown Kingston, we have a $1.2 million business, running successfully. It brings vitality to Uptown and God knows we need it, and they bring vitality to Downtown. Why change that?”

DeLisio was clear that he wants to see both Kingston Catholic and St. Joe’s stay open to educate, especially with the closure of a total of four KingstonCitySchool District elementary schools, as well as St. Mary’s of the Snow.

DeLisio has laid out the school’s intentions to continue chugging along fulfilling their Catholic mission, whether Cardinal Timothy Dolan will allow them to use the word “Catholic” in their name or not. In the event the cardinal puts the kibosh on using the “Catholic” in their name, DeLisio said they will proceed as a private school with a “faith-based” mission. DeLisio was confident in Dolan’s commitment to Catholic education, and felt positive the school would be allowed to stay on premises, or that another reasonable agreement could be worked out. The St. Joseph’s community is hopeful to have a clearer picture of their direction by the end of February.

“I would hate to even think that, but I cannot even imagine that people of faith would go out of their way to be mean-spirited just because it didn’t go their way,” said DeLisio. “I wouldn’t believe the cardinal would be mean-spirited like that. We would certainly want to negotiate staying where we are, and who knows what would come along. I am so certain that the cardinal’s desire for Catholic education is going to win.”

With dwindling funds, the intention is to streamline resources and shift the burden of supporting Catholic education from being singular, parish-based schools to be funded by all parishes, whether they have a school attached or not.

Seeking stability via endowment

St. Joseph alumnus and former state assemblyman John Guerin is working to create a permanent endowment for the school for people to will money to the school. Guerin believes that even non-alumni may choose to do so out of appreciation; citing that over 300 people of prominence and note have graduated from the halls of the school who have contributed greatly to the community-at-large. He also said he does not believe the greater church has been helpful teaching their schools how to effectively fundraise, and should be more aggressive in asking.

“Going private does not forgive the archdiocese,” Guerin said of the notion of becoming a full private school. “St Joe’s pays the archdiocese. If you don’t have to consolidate, then why wouldn’t you just be happy to have two successful schools operating, and maybe doing a little different, but both doing it well? It’s vital and vigorous and I am sure that Kingston Catholic School will grow this year, and we know ours will. The strategy would make sense only if they said there’s only room for one Catholic school.”

Guerin is one of five siblings who attended St. Joseph’s; all five of his children have gone through the halls as well. Two of his grandchildren are currently students, and a third will begin next year. Guerin is passionate in his love and affection for the school and church. He is adamant that St. Joe’s is getting a raw deal, and argues that they are being “bullied out of business.”

Guerin had a sharp message for Cardinal Dolan. “The best advice I ever got as a kid, I want Cardinal Dolan to hear: ‘You don’t know that you don’t know,’” he said. “If the Catholic Church does not evangelize through the Catholic education, it is going to be a dying religion. It is already a religion with no political clout at all anymore because the Catholic politicians behave any way they want to with no consequences … As much as I am a fan of the Catholic faith, I am equally not a fan of the administration. I am an imperfect guy with an imperfect message.”

Traffic worries

Kingston Fire Chief John Reinhardt has immediate concerns with for safety on lower Broadway, where Kingston Catholic is situated, should Kingston Catholic become the city’s only parochial school.

“I have had a concern for years where parking on both sides of the street down there really constricts Broadway, if you double the amount of people that would double the amount of cars,” said Reinhardt, who added that he would have liked this taken care of years ago.

There are 3 comments

  1. KS

    I couldn’t agree more! I think the title says it all. Having taken the KCS tour, I can appreciate the warm atmosphere, I know that that is incredibly important for my child. But also what is incredibly important is their safety. I did not like the thought of my child being in a very cramped basement classroom, little windows, little ventilation and the ability for any person/stranger to walk freely into that school. But this is not about KCS, this is about SJS and their ability to not just survive, but thrive in the community that loves and supports them. I say to Cardinal Dolan and Dr. McNiff ~ let St. Joseph School prove to you what they are truly capable of!

  2. Mary Tarcza

    I wholeheartedly agree that the Kingston community can and should support both schools. As a parent of children who attended Kingston Catholic between the years 2000-2012, and with all due respect to “KS”, who commented on the article, I would like to clarify a misconception. I can assure you that no one … and I mean NO ONE (that includes parents, delivery persons, mail carriers and ‘strangers’) … can “walk freely into that school.” Kingston Catholic has had security measures in place long before the tragedies which are currently causing districts to ramp up awareness. The doors are ALWAYS locked. Security cameras have been in place for many years. Every single person is identified via the electronic surveillance system, at which point they must state their business and then a determination is made as to whether or not they are allowed inside. They are then monitored by office staff to assure that they go directly to the main office, where they are required to sign in. (They are also expected to sign out when they leave the building.) Kingston Catholic practices lockdown drills on a regular basis. Those basement rooms with small windows could prove to be advantageous in certain circumstances. The children and faculty are well versed in what to do in an emergency and there are ongoing assessments which include input from faculty, staff and parents, alike. Kingston Catholic is now and has always been proactive with regard to safety. And, given its proximity to Kingston Police Department Headquarters, there is often a watchful eye in the neighborhood as police officers travel to and from their appointments throughout the day. The bottom line is this: To anyone who might be considering Kingston Catholic, please rest assured that it is indeed a safe and sound environment, both physically and educationally.

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