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City pressures diocese for answer on Cathedral

Date: 2/7/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Pressure is coming from Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Councilor Timothy Allen for an answer on the status of the reconstruction of Cathedral High School.

The school was destroyed by the June 1, 2011 tornado and the diocese received an insurance settlement in 2013. The school has been in session in rented quarters in Wilbraham.

Sarno sent Bishop Timothy McDonnell a letter last week requesting the diocese explain whether to not there is a commitment to building a new Cathedral High School.

James Leydon, Sarno’s director of Communications confirmed the mayor had not received any response from the bishop as of Jan. 31.

Allen also sent a letter to McDonnell dated Jan. 18. In the letter Allen recapped a conversation he had with the bishop and noted that Cathedral has a current enrollment of “about 230 students” and “a new Cathedral would attract students, but many would not be able to afford it.”

Allen also wrote that the diocese had hoped to establish a tuition scholarship fund for the high school by asking alumni to contribute $9,000 with the goal of 1,000 people participating. So far, only 50 people have made the commitment.

Allen wrote to the bishop, “The basic problem is that we have people who would contribute to the endowment fund, but they need assurance that the diocese is committed to building the new school. So they wait. Yet the diocese wants the commitments first. You are the person who can break that logjam. I humbly, but resolutely, ask that you do so by making some commitments. On behalf of so many devoted supporters of a new Cathedral on Surrey Road, I request you make the following three commitments:

“One, an immediate and firm commitment to build a new Cathedral on Surrey Road; two, a target date to commence building; and three, a target date for school occupancy by students.”

In an email to Reminder Publications, Mark Dupont, the spokesman for the diocese wrote in response to a request for an update, “This week the diocese allowed Cathedral development staff to release of a very early artist rendition on just one possible approach to restoring Cathedral High School. We’ve taken this very unusual step, before any actual and final decision is made, as a sign that we continue to focus our efforts on a resolution to this matter. While we are quietly making some progress, no decision has been made nor should any decision be inferred by the release of this rendering. And most importantly none will be made until the diocese has both received a determination from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and received a response from the Cathedral community to the critical $10 million tuition fund campaign.

“At this stage we sincerely hope to be able to participate in the FEMA Sandy Recovery Act. If so, we should have some initial finding by late February with then an additional three months to formulate a final plan. In the interim the tuition campaign has already begun and in fact we have already heard from some major donors with potential interest in leadership gifts. So following their lead the number one thing Cathedral supporters can do is not wait for the campaign mailing to arrive but rather be in contact with the school immediately to make their commitment towards the tuition fund and see how they can help spread the word to all Cathedral Alumni.

“It is important for people to realize that enrollment declines were a great concern for many years prior to the tornado. The people of the diocese have been the largest and most consistent benefactor for Cathedral for many, many years through generous subsidies and underwriting operating deficits. The bishop has been honest and forthright that he holds the school in high regard and wants very much to see it returned to Surrey Road but that this financial situation cannot continue without being addressed with a plan and therefore it must be part of the decisions made at this critical juncture. Unlike cities and towns, other than funds, which may come from FEMA, we cannot fall back on the Commonwealth or taxpayers.

“It is very important to note that this is a decision that will have a great long-term impact on not just Springfield but the whole of the Diocese of Springfield. That is why we have and will continue to act in a careful and thorough manner – for which we will not be rushed nor pressured into any premature decisions. Our cautious and methodical approach has served the interest of this school well up to date, so there is no reason to start taking shortcuts, which may prove costly and unwise in the long run.”

He concluded, “This has been and remains our consistent response to all interested parties including the mayor, city officials and the very supportive East Forest Park neighborhood community.”