Two more Catholic high schools will close at the end of the school year.
John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Center City and Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote will shut at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Hallahan was the first all-girls’ Catholic diocesan high school in the United States.
The decision was made after a sustainability study examined enrollment, demographic trends, finances, and more, officials said. Hallahan is currently operating at 36% capacity and McDevitt at 40% capacity.
Enrollment at both is under 360 students.
“Without painful, but necessary action at this juncture, declining enrollment would have caused tuition increases to accelerate rapidly in order to cover school operating expenses and prohibited these schools from offering an affordable educational experience without incurring massive deficits,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement. “In addition, the decline would have seriously jeopardized the ability of these schools to provide rich and diverse academic and extracurricular offerings that families expect and deserve from the gift of Catholic education.”
Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez said the announcement brought “great sadness” for thousands.
“The closure of any Catholic school is deeply painful, most especially for the students, teachers, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters so intimately connected to them,” Pérez said in a statement. “I know that today’s announcement will weigh heavily on every member of the Hallahan and McDevitt school communities. I share in that grief.”
COVID-19 did not prompt the closure, officials said, but “the ongoing uncertainty being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the need to take immediate action.”
Tuition assistance requests at the schools were up 46%, according to the archdiocese.
“In addition, families who have never received financial aid now find themselves in need of support,” the statement said. “This trend has resulted in a severe strain on available financial aid resources, particularly in schools which are heavily dependent upon it as part of the tuition payment structure.”
Though the closures are painful, they are strategic, said Irene Hannan, CEO of Faith in the Future, the foundation that manages the archdiocese’s 17 high schools.
“Making them now will allow us to continue providing the product our families need and deserve with an eye to strengthening the other schools in the system,” Hannan said in a statement. “Our strong focus is on the future of Catholic secondary education in Philadelphia, ensuring it remains accessible and affordable for all.”
Students will be welcomed at other archdiocesan high schools, officials said, and efforts will be made to find jobs for Hallahan and McDevitt staff at other schools as well.
The news appeared to surprise the school communities. Earlier Wednesday, Hallahan had announced details about entrance examinations for next year’s freshman class. Similar plans were underway at McDevitt.
Hallahan, on North 19th Street, has educated 37,000 young women since opening in 1911. For more than 50 years, its students celebrate the end of their school year by jumping into the fountain at Logan Circle, just a few blocks from the school.
McDevitt opened in 1958.
Tuition at both is $8,150 annually.
The news stunned alumni at both schools.
Fran Fox, who graduated from Hallahan in 1974, has fond memories of playing the viola in the school orchestra, and made lifelong friends at the school.
“I had a difficult childhood, and at Hallahan, I felt like I was part of a community that cared for me,” said Fox, who grew up in North Philadelphia. “We know that we were the first Catholic girls’ high school in the country, and that was special. We all felt special.”
Fox said she hoped Hallahan alumnae could band together to save the school.
Ginger McHugh, a 1991 graduate of McDevitt, thrived in the theater program, Royal Masque, where she met lifelong friends.
“McDevitt had a lot of really strong extracurricular activities for a lot of years, things that drew people in,” said McHugh. Still, she knew the school was struggling; 250 students made up her graduating class, and those numbers have dwindled considerably.
Jim Fry received a double whammy Wednesday: He graduated from McDevitt in 1993 and his first teaching job was at Hallahan. Both schools are special places, said Fry.
Earlier this year, Fry and other alumni of the theater program fund-raised for a water bottle filling station to be placed near the stage in honor of longtime theater teachers the Rev. Francis Sabatini and Sister Mary Anne Beatty. Concerned about dwindling Catholic school enrollment, they asked school officials: Is McDevitt safe?
“They said, ‘Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we’re staying open,’” said Fry. “Getting that news today — it was a kick in my gut.”
The Hallahan and McDevitt news comes on the heels of an announcement that Saint Basil Academy will also close at the end of the year. That high school, in Jenkintown, is run by the Ukrainian Catholic Sisters of Saint Basil the Great.