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Rumors about Catholic school troubles 'ruining Christmas'

Overwhelmed, depressed, frustrated - no one ever said that being a Catholic schoolteacher, parent or student these days would be a cakewalk.

Overwhelmed, depressed, frustrated - no one ever said that being a Catholic schoolteacher, parent or student these days would be a cakewalk.

Looming over the Catholic school hallways, faculty lounges, households and blogs is talk of school closings by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and endless "what if" scenarios.

Archbishop Charles Chaput met Tuesday with an advisory panel tasked with developing a plan for Catholic education, which has been plagued by dropping enrollment and rising tuition.

Chaput and the 16-member Blue Ribbon Commission are expected to announce the closings Jan. 6, Three King's Day.

"The whole situation is absolutely ...  I can't think of the word," said Teresa Hooten, a physics teacher at Little Flower High School who is reliving a nightmare. She taught at Cardinal Dougherty High School until it was shuttered by the Archdiocese last year.

"We are engulfed in anticipation, anxiousness, fear. It's overwhelming. We just want to know," Hooten said.

"It's absolutely ruining Christmas. It would have been kinder to tell us now."

While waiting for an announcement, area Catholics have been busy filling the information vacuum. They speculate about which schools are on "the list." They wonder what alternatives will be left.

Inadvertently, local Catholics have become players in a game of "whisper down the lane."

"You hear all kinds of rumors about what they're doing," said Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic Teachers.

"Whispering down the lane becomes so convoluted after five people. Rumors are not the best thing. But if all you have are rumors, it's all you can talk about."

Teachers' conversations at lunchtime have "intensified" since Chaput released a letter last weekend, considered by many to be unprecedented in the Archdiocese in its bluntness, that laid out the school closings issue.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, Chaput wrote, "will likely counsel that some, and perhaps many, schools must close or combine."

"It was sooooo depressing," Hooten said, describing it as a "punch in the stomach."

Hooten, Schwartz and others are concerned for all the students and teachers who must leave schools set for closure, but they are particularly sympathetic for those who have experienced closure before.

Some Cardinal Dougherty students transferred to Bishop McDevitt High School, one of the schools rumored to be closing, Hooten said.

John Marquess, a North Catholic graduate whose alma mater was closed by the Archdiocese last year, said he can't imagine how families can endure two closures in as many years.

"Twice in two years they're going to be told, 'never mind. You're on your own again.' I don't know how as a parent you weather this. I don't know how the administration is going to handle this," said Marquess, a lawyer in Cherry Hill. "I think a lot of the parents are going to say 'although I want a Catholic education for my son, I can't do this to my son again.'"

The closure rumors appear to be getting to Chaput, too, even though he's only been in Philadelphia since September.

"I am VERY irritated by this campaign," he reportedly wrote to a West Catholic alum who sent him an email along with a slew of others lobbying to save the school.

"It clogs up my computer and makes it difficult for me to communicate with others. I am tempted to remove my email from the public because of things like this ...   These campaigns are really counter-productive."