Home Education and Careers Parents express disappointment, diocese and parish offer support at meeting about St....

Parents express disappointment, diocese and parish offer support at meeting about St. Peter the Apostle School closure

Diocesan superintendent of schools Lou De Angelo talks with parents at a meeting about the closure of St. Peter the Apostle School in New Castle. Seated at the table to De Angelo's left are Father Tim Nolan, pastor of St. Peter's, and principal Carlo Testa. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

NEW CASTLE — About 40 people, including a few students, gathered at Crowley Hall at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in New Castle on July 27 to learn more about why their school will not reopen in the fall. The parents expressed disappointment about the circumstances surrounding the announcement of St. Peter’s closing, which was made the day before.

Father Timothy Nolan, the pastor, let school families know on June 26 that a decision had been made not to open St. Peter the Apostle School this fall. He cited an unexpected drop in enrollment in his letter to the families; at the meeting, he added that the parish was operating at a deficit. The decision to close after 118 years, he said, was made at the parish level.

“This is not a diocesan decision,” he said. “It was made at the parish level because we simply don’t have the money.”

He joined Carlo Testa, the principal, and Lou De Angelo, diocesan superintendent of schools, at the meeting. A second meeting will be held July 2 at Crowley Hall at 6 p.m.

“No one wanted to see this happen,” Father Nolan said. He and Testa examined “all possibilities” to keep St. Peter’s open, but the enrollment numbers were just too small.

De Angelo said the school would need 160 students to break even, and the largest enrollment over the past five years was 158 in 2021-22. This year, the school finished with fewer than 130.

He acknowledged the pain and disappointment of the parents and students.

“This is certainly never an easy situation to manage,” he said, noting that he has had to address meetings for the same purpose at several schools during his tenure. Nothing he could say, he continued, could “take away the hurt of the closure.”

Diocesan officials, he said, “are as sad as you are.”

De Angelo said as of June 24, 103 students were enrolled for the 2024-25 school year. While pre-kindergarten 4 had a healthy enrollment, only six children were signed up for pre-k 3.

The school would have run a deficit of approximately $250,000 with an enrollment of 103, and neither the parish nor the diocese is in the position to subsidize the school to that extent, he continued.

“It’s just one of those situations where the numbers didn’t work out,” he said.

Several parents questioned why an announcement was made in late June. Had they known earlier, they could have tried to boost enrollment, they said. In addition, they would have had more time to explore other educational options for the upcoming school year.

Father Nolan said that in most cases, once word gets out that a school is in trouble, people tend to leave, not enter. De Angelo added that one of the reasons why the decision was delayed was because, historically, St. Peter the Apostle tended to have a surge in enrollment in June. That did not happen this year.

“We were really hopeful that we were going to meet the criteria,” he said.

Among the suggestions from the parents was that the school or diocese do exit interviews with families to find out why they were leaving. De Angelo said the diocesan schools office only has four employees and is not in a position to do that, but he thinks it’s a great idea.

Testa and De Angelo also addressed some practical concerns for the parents. De Angelo said the diocese is working with faculty members who wish to remain in Catholic education find employment at other schools. Several other diocesan schools have already reached out to the schools office to signal their willingness to accept as many St. Peter’s students as they can handle. In some cases, they indicated they could take all of them.

Student records, Testa said, will be available at the school office beginning July 1. Any family receiving tuition assistance can apply it to any other Catholic school. All fees paid to St. Peter’s for next year will be refunded. St. Peter the Apostle School has asked the other Catholic schools to consider matching St. Peter’s tuition for any student who transfers in, at least for a year.

“Our goal is that our students continue in Catholic education,” Testa said.

He and De Angelo said the school and the diocese will help the families in any way they can.

“I wish I could say something that would make it easier or better,” he said.

St. Peter the Apostle Church is across Harmony Street from the school. The school campus also includes Crowley Hall, the gymnasium, the school and pastoral center. Father Nolan said the future of the property will be determined at a later date.

Photos by Mike Lang.