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Diocese of Buffalo to close ten Catholic schools

Ashley Hirtzel

The Diocese of Buffalo announced Wednesday that ten Catholic elementary schools will be closing their doors at the end of this school year. The Diocese believes the closures will strengthen the Catholic education system across western New York.

Bishop Richard Malone says he’s confident they’re making the right decision.

“We have done extensive and exhaustive studies of the demographic developments in western New York, and I hope people will be able to understand as painful as this is that we’re doing this out of concern to keep catholic education strong and growing regionally,” said Malone.

The elementary schools closing include Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Elma, Fourteen Holy Helpers in West Seneca, Our Lady of Pompeii in Lancaster, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Orchard Park, St. Bernadette in Orchard Park, St. Francis of Assisi in Tonawanda, St. Joseph in Gowanda, St. Leo the Great in Amherst, St. Mary of the Lake in Hamburg, and St. Vincent dePaul in Spring Brook.

Students who attend the closing schools will be taken in by neighboring schools. No parishes will close due to the revitalization plan. Diocese Superintendent of Catholic schools Sister Carol Cimino says parents received letters Wednesday regarding the transfer process.

“On each letter was a list of schools in the area, which might provide options for the parents to look at, so that if a grade fills up in one school there are several other options,” said Cimino.

The Diocese Secretary for Catholic Education Carol Kostyniak says 195 faculty and staff will be affected by the closings.

“I would like to say every one of them will have a job, that’s what my heart would like to say, but we know that’s not reality. Some will retire. We will give everyone of them an opportunity for the jobs that open in our schools. We are hoping as the enrollment increases in some schools we will need to hire additional teachers,” said Kostyniak.

Kostyniak says the revitalization plan will allow the Diocese to improve programs and make catholic schools competitive. She says a potential merger of the open catholic schools is possible in the future.

Data collected over the past several years revealed that enrollment at Catholic schools has dropped by 41 percent over the last decade. Kostyniak says parents were surveyed prior to the closing announcement and alerted in various news letters.

“If they were left out we really are sorry, we really did tried every way to include them,” said Kostyniak.

The Diocese says funds saved from the closing schools will be used to upgrade equipment, and enhance academic and religious programs.

Principal of Our Lady of Pompeii Diane Liptak says her staff wasn’t surprised to hear the announcement.

“We have an awesome staff and I’m sure the other nine schools that are involved do as well.  We are hoping for the best as far as placement for them, but our first concern is placement for our students,” said Liptak.

Liptak says when it comes to her future, it’s in god’s hands. The Catholic Diocese is also in talks with the BISON Fund to generate new scholarships for those transferring out of low performing Buffalo elementary schools. If the scholarships are enacted they would provide a boost in enrollment.

Malone is calling for New York State legislators to approve the Investment in Education Tax Credit as it would provide a financial boost for Catholic schools.