By Anthony J. Machcinski
Thus, it becomes our sad duty to inform you that the Archdiocese of Newark has concluded that Mater Dei Academy will cease operations at the end of the current academic year.”
This statement, from a letter to parents of Mater Dei school children, conveyed the grim news that their children would be unable to attend the school next year.
“I was shocked,” said one parent of a seventh-grader who requested anonymity. “My child was upset. He wanted to graduate with his classmates.”
The school, which was created three years ago with the merger of St. Stephen’s in Kearny and Holy Cross in Harrison. According to Archdiocesan spokesman Jim Goodness, the decision had been finalized by the Archdiocese within the last month and communicated to the administration at the school.
In the letter sent to parents, Pastoral Administrator Rev. Michael G. Ward, V.F., and Principal Deborah DeMattia, wrote: “Unfortunately, due to our poor economy, competition from charter schools and other factors, enrollment has continued to decline, not just at Mater Dei, but other area schools as well. The financial stability of the Academy has become unsustainable. We believe these trends will continue for the near future, thus making it necessary to significantly increase tuition. We all know that such an increase would be prohibitive for you.”
Goodness echoed the letter’s dire forecast.
“You’re looking at a decline in enrollment over the three years of about 80 students,” Goodness said. “It opened up in 2009-2010 and had 250 students and this year there are only 170…Having said that, the next step would have been to look at an increase in tuition in the per student charges in the school…It creates an excessive burden and would have made continuing prohibitive.”
Nonetheless, parents are doing everything in their power to keep the school open.
“We made $86,000 in fundraising alone last year,” said Cindy Schirm, a school board member the past two years whose daughter – at this point – figures to be in Mater Dei’s final graduating class. And some parents have begun a petition drive in hopes of keeping the school open.
Others, however, have already started planning for their children’s education in a post-Mater Dei universe.
“I’m most likely going to put them in Queen of Peace,” said Adriana Anders, a mother who currently has a third- and sixth-grader in Mater Dei and another child currently in Queen of Peace High School. “I can’t put them in public school because they would have to go to three different schools (based on Anders’ residence).”
In an effort to address parents’ concerns about where their children can go next school year, Goodness says the Archdiocese has something already in the works.
“What will be happening is parents will have an opportunity to meet with schools in a much higher position in terms of numbers and be able to transition into another school for September,” Goodness said. He was unsure when these meetings would take place.
While many students were upset about the school’s closing and not having the opportunity to graduate with many of their friends, they were unhappy for their teachers, who according to parents, created a “family-like” atmosphere.
“(My son) enjoyed going to school with the teachers,” explained the anonymous parent. “They made it more of a family place.”
Teachers, who will lose their jobs at Mater Dei, will have the opportunity, according to Goodness, to apply for jobs inside the archdiocese.
“They can apply for any open position in the archdiocese,” Goodness explained. “However, should a job not be available, there is a severance program in place for those teachers. That’s all something we discussed through human resources. Some of that has already started.”
The demise of Mater Dei would mark the closing of the last Catholic school in West Hudson, since the merger of St. Stephen’s and Holy Cross in September 2009