Citing declining enrollment and significant financial shortfalls, the Diocese of Trenton plans to close two Catholic elementary schools in Burlington County in June.
The decision was shared with faculty, staff, and parents at separate meetings Tuesday at the Pope John Paul II Regional School in Willingboro and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Maple Shade.
The closings are the latest in a trend in parochial education in the wake of shrinking enrollment, escalating costs, and rising tuition that have put a Catholic education out of reach for some families. The Trenton Diocese enrolls 10,500 students in parish and diocese schools in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties.
Pope John Paul Regional was created in 2006 under a reorganization for four parishes and provided a feeder school for what was then the only Roman Catholic high school in the county, Holy Cross Prep in Delran. Holy Prep became an independent Catholic school in 2018 after the diocese said it could no longer provide financial subsidies to keep it open.
The diocese said the school enrolled 113 students in kindergarten through eighth grade for the current year, below its 220-student benchmark necessary for financial sustainability. Funding from the four sponsoring parishes has dropped, and support from the diocese has grown to about $2.5 million.
“It is difficult to close any Catholic school because of the values promoted and the environment provided. Sadly, Pope John Paul II Regional School is no longer sustainable,” Diocesan Superintendent JoAnn Tier said in a statement. ”Its history will be a treasured memory for alumni and members of the school community.”
There has also been a steady enrollment decline over the last five years at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, which was started in 1928, said the parish pastor, the Rev. Joel Wilson. The Maple Shade school enrolled 125 students in kindergarten through eighth grade this year.
Since the late 1990s, the parish and the school have amassed a $4.8 million debt to the diocese, officials said. The parish said it can no longer cover the financial shortfall caused by low enrollment.
”Our hearts are heavy as we acknowledge these financial difficulties and the inevitability of this decision,” Wilson said.
The diocese said it would help the nearly 40 faculty and staff members at both schools seek other employment. It will also help students enroll in another nearby Catholic school.