The Diocese of Camden made the announcement Friday on its website:
The decision to close the schools is difficult. Years of dwindling community support in the form of declining student enrollment and local fundraising, despite significant diocesan and parish financial support, has necessitated this decision.
The administrations, faculties, families and donors who have supported these schools should be commended for their efforts to keep these schools open and accessible. However, the decreasing priority given to Catholic education by many parents, including Catholic parents, ultimately weakened the viability of these schools.
All affected students will have the opportunity to continue their Catholic education at nearby regional Catholic elementary and high schools.
Over the last five years, each school has seen a precipitous drop in registrations despite the best efforts of the school administrators to implement new enrollment and academic initiatives and continue their traditions of excellence in education while providing a home where the Catholic faith can be taught, learned, and lived.
Over the same time period, these three elementary schools have received a combined $3.8 million in financial support from the diocese and/or local parishes to sustain operations while keeping tuition as affordable as possible. Wildwood Catholic High School has received nearly $750,000 in support and Saint Joseph High School has received loan support totaling $1.1 million but currently carries a debt of $6.6 million.
“Closing a Catholic school is gut-wrenching for everyone involved.”
Unfortunately, the continued loss of enrollment over that time has strained these schools’ finances to the point that even substantial diocesan and parish support can no longer meet the regular operational expenses of the schools.
Finally, compounding the already existing financial and enrollment issues at these schools is the expectation that they will suffer further negative impacts due to the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated business shutdowns and personnel layoffs that have been felt throughout the region.
The decision to close these schools is sobering and painful. It has not been made lightly. It has been made with great deliberation, including insight from regional pastors, school advisory boards, the College of Consultors, the Diocesan Finance Council, the Office of Catholic Schools and the Diocesan Finance Office.
“Closing a Catholic school is gut-wrenching for everyone involved, from the principal and pastor to the superintendent and bishop. However, as stewards of the financial resources entrusted to us, we came to the difficult conclusion that low enrollment at these schools caused the strain on the funds available to become too great,” said Dr. Bill Watson, Superintendent of Schools. “I am deeply grateful to the faculty and staff who have given so much to these schools and to the dedicated parents who have continued to send their children to them. We look forward to welcoming these families into another Catholic school community next year.”
Read more details about the schools affected.
In a letter to parents posted on social media, Saint Joseph’s principal, the Rev. Allain Caparas, called his school’s closure “devastating,” but said it was unable to balance its budget if it remained open.
“This decision is especially difficult for us to bear in light of how many challenges our school community has had to overcome, most recently now as we grapple with the coronavirus pandemic,” Caparas wrote.
Saint Joseph has a history of dominance in South Jersey football, with the Wildcats winning 27 state titles since 1974. Walsh, the diocese spokesman, said players should be eligible to transfer to other football programs, under New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association rules.