A Catholic school that has educated South Philadelphia children for 112 years will close in June, officials said Friday.
St. Gabriel Catholic School, at 29th and Dickinson Streets, currently enrolls fewer than 130 students in a building that could accommodate hundreds more. Rising building costs and a declining student population forced the closure, said Bruce Robinson, chief executive of Independence Mission Schools, which operates St. Gabe’s.
The pandemic “did not help” enrollment figures, Robinson said, “but the numbers were low even prior to COVID.”
Most St. Gabriel’s students are expected to shift to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, which sits about a mile away and is also part of the Independence Mission network, which formed in 2013 to support a group of city Catholic grade schools that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had targeted for closure.
The closure “was a logical decision, but it certainly isn’t an easy decision, just because of the impact it has on the students and the teachers and the principals,” said Robinson. “St. Gabriel’s has been there for a long, long time. So many families went to that school and now it won’t be there.”
The building is owned by the parish, not by the network, and so its disposal or reuse will be up to the church.
Not operating two large school buildings in the same area will mean investments in St. Thomas Aquinas’ building and educational program, Robinson said.
Families will meet over the next several days with school and Independence Mission staff, Robinson said, and be given information about their options. Children will have access to counseling services, and the network has vowed to pay for new school uniforms to help ease the transition.
St. Gabriel’s tuition has been heavily subsidized by the network, Robinson said, and those subsidies can now benefit students at St. Thomas Aquinas and across the system, which will have 14 schools after the St. Gabe’s closure.
“In the rest of our schools, the buildings are fairly well occupied, and we have the ability to move on strongly with our other 14 schools,” said Robinson.
The news comes as the network is poised to release a five-year plan which explores long-term sustainability issues, officials said, and the effects of an economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s one in a string of Catholic school closures announced in the past several months, from St. Basil’s Academy, run by the Ukrainian Sisters of St. Basil the Great; to John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School and Bishop McDevitt High School, which the archdiocese is closing.