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For students, school closing is the breakup of a family

St. Patrick's School was the first Catholic school in the city of Chicopee, founded in 1880 by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE For St. Patrick's School Principal Anne Sweetman, the closing of the school is more than the ending of an era, it's an event that is affecting a family the family formed by the students, their parents and the school's staff.

The St. Patrick's Parish made the decision last week to close the oldest Catholic school in the city at the end of this school year because of a steady decline in enrollments. The Sisters of St. Joseph established the school in 1880.

Sweetman told Reminder Publications the reaction to the announcement varied from "shock to sadness to regret."

Many of the seventh graders were "devastated," she said, as they had one year to go in the school. At a Grandparents Day event, there were a lot of tears from both students and family members, she added.

In a statement, Bishop Timothy McDonnell said, "For a number of years now, St. Patrick's Parish has sacrificed for St. Patrick's School. But declining numbers and limited resources have forced the parish to a reluctant decision. Sadly, I must agree with the decision to close St. Patrick's School. Every effort will be made to provide for students and faculty in other Catholic schools. They are all in my prayers."

She said the enrollment had been declining by 10 percent each year for the past three or four years due not to parental unhappiness with the school but with the changing economy times and the demographics in the city.

Tuition was $3,200 a year, but parents could lower that amount down to $2,700 through volunteer service, she said.

When the staff started the school year, she said they were looking for "creative ways to make the school continue." As the year progressed though it was apparent there was "no other option" than to close.

She said that a large portion of the students plan to continue with their Catholic education and transfers into one of the other three catholic schools in the city Holy Name, St. Joan of Arc/St. George and St. Stanislaus.

Sweetman attributed part of the decline in enrollment to the changes in the American lifestyle in which people do not have the same strong a sense of community they may have had 30 or 50 years ago. At that time most people worked in the town in which they lived and schools were part of neighborhood life.

There are 19 people who will be losing their jobs through the closing and Sweetman said the Springfield Diocese has assured her the 10 faculty members from St. Patrick School would be considered first for jobs in any other schools in the diocese. The Chicopee Public Schools also encouraging the teachers to look at open positions at the public schools.

Sweetman said she has not heard any future plans for the school building.

Sweetman said the last day of the school year is June 13, and there will be a closing ceremony. It will not necessarily be conducted that day due to the emotions the final day may bring, she explained.