Maureen and Vince Yevoli believe in Catholic education. But when the high schools that their daughter and son attend each announced plans this fall to permanently close, the Fox Chase couple were incredulous:
This, again? they thought.
The June closings for St. Basil’s Academy and Bishop McDevitt High School will mark the fourth time in a decade the Yevoli family will have to endure their children’s schools permanently shutting down.
“It’s devastating, every time,” said Maureen Yevoli.
The family’s plight might seem extraordinary, but probably not rare. Across the country, Catholic school enrollment has been plummeting for decades, from more than 5 million in the 1960s to 1.7 million this year, according to data from the National Catholic Education Association. More than 900 schools closed in the past decade. Some predicted the pandemic and ensuing recession would lead another 100 to 150 schools to close nationwide this year.
The pullback in the Philadelphia region has been just as pronounced. Dozens of elementary and high schools have closed or merged in the past decade.
For the Yevolis, the decision to start with Catholic schools wasn’t difficult.
Vince Yevoli grew up in New York state and attended public school, but Maureen, a native of Cheltenham, is a product of Catholic schools. The couple wanted that for Madelyn, Amelia and Nico, even if it was a financial sacrifice. When it came time to send their oldest to school, the couple chose St. James in nearby Elkins Park.
“St. James was a nice school, and we thought that having religion in their life was important,” said Maureen Yevoli. “We wanted them to have that faith.”
They loved St. James’ small class sizes and solid education. Madelyn was happy there, but in 2010, when she was in third grade and Amelia in kindergarten, unexpected news came: Due to dwindling enrollment, the school would close. It was a jolt, but the family chose to stay with Catholic schools. They moved the kids to Immaculate Conception School in Jenkintown.
Two years later, the kids were forced to move again, when Immaculate Conception merged with St. Luke’s in Glenside and became St. Joseph the Protector, in the St. Luke building.
Each closure brought challenges, and it didn’t get easier with practice.
“Every time you have to make a move like that, it’s tough,” said Maureen Yevoli. “You’re uprooting your children yet another time, sending them to a whole new school, with new friends. Some of their friends didn’t go with them, some went public.”
But the Yevolis persisted. The kids graduated from St. Joseph, and the girls chose St. Basil’s, a private girls academy run by an order of Ukrainian nuns in Jenkintown. McDevitt, an archdiocesan high school in Wyncote, was perfect for Nico.
Both schools have shown signs of trouble. McDevitt, which opened in 1958, was largely empty, with enrollment under 360 using just 40% of its building capacity, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said. St. Basil’s educates just 226 students, with a freshman class of under 50.
At one-point last school year, St. Basil’s school leadership leveled with its families — things were bad, and the school might not have enough money to finish the term. But fund-raising efforts seemed to help, and one significant donor made a real difference.
“Then they told those girls, ‘We’re going to get you through, everybody’s going to graduate,’” said Maureen Yevoli, a grocery-store clerk. They thought Amelia, who plays soccer and basketball at Basil’s, was safe.
It was not to be. St. Basil’s announced in October it would close at the end of the school year, its 89th. The news about McDevitt dropped last week.
The Yevolis wished they had more notice, and that the schools’ difficulties were messaged more clearly. After St. Basil’s closure was announced, they figured they would send Amelia, a junior, to McDevitt with her brother, where he’s a sophomore. They even got as far as buying her a McDevitt sweatshirt.
The kids are upset but coping. The school year, already strange because of COVID-19, got significantly more difficult. And though both Basil’s and McDevitt students are operating in a hybrid model, with students learning remotely some days and in school other days, there is no way for the student bodies to safely gather to mourn together.
“We’re proud of them, they’re not woe-is-me kids, but they’re bummed out. It’s hard for families, but it’s hard for teachers too, the people who work there,” said Vince Yevoli.
“We told them, ‘We’re going to get through this, we will figure this out as a family and we’re going to move forward,” said Maureen Yevoli.
What moving forward looks like is an open question. After a staggering four transitions they did not ask for, they are not sure what’s next.
“We don’t know if we’re going to pick another Catholic school,” Maureen Yevoli said. “It’s probably going to be a public school.”