Catholic school closing

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NATCHEZ — The bishop of the Catholic Diocese has decided to close grades one through four of Holy Family Catholic School on May 23.

Last Friday Bishop Joseph Latino and the superintendent for Holy Family told principal Rosa Demby his decision.

Demby said she was shocked at hearing the news.

Email newsletter signup

“There was not an inkling that anything was wrong,” she said.

The bishop wrote a letter stating his reasons and said he has been concerned about the state of the school since he became bishop in 2003, though the concerns date back to the 90s.

Those concerns are decreased enrollment, the decrease of teaching sisters, unpaid tuition and “a large debt incurred by the school.”

When Demby asked the bishop what kind of debt they were talking about and how it could be fixed, his reply was, “We’re not talking numbers.”

Demby first gave a rebuttal Tuesday night to the issue of decreased enrollment.

She said when she first came to the school almost seven years ago the enrollment was 112 students. This year, she said the enrollment topped out with registration at 163, with 159 students currently enrolled.

The school has also followed guidelines by meeting the requirement mandated by the diocese that each grade level must have 15 or more students.

The only class that doesn’t have more that amount in the fourth grade class, she said. This is because those students started at the school when enrollment was not as high.

She then addressed the increased cost of education by saying that fundraisers have been conducted and money has been raised to compensate.

She said the school has worked tirelessly to do everything demanded by the diocese but keep hitting roadblocks that has led to the bishop wanting to close it down.

It is also required for the school to have a budget that remains in the black for five years, Demby said of another diocese demand.

“I never even thought that anything like this was going to happen,” Demby said.

Everyone at Tuesday’s meeting wanted to know more answers to the complaints.

Father Michael Saah-Buckman addressed the crowd of parishioners and parents saying it was now up to them because he and Demby have done all they can to try to save the school, but they need more support.

“Our job is to bring this information to you,” he said. “What you do with this information, that’s up to you.”

Petitions began floating around the room and pens were passed as everyone signed their names to save the school.

A committee was formed to begin work on writing a proposal to appease the diocese and to organize a trip to Jackson to see the bishop.

He suggested possibly making the trip during the school’s spring break, which is next week.

A group of Boston College students who make an annual volunteer-based trip to Natchez during their spring break waited to make an announcement.

The college pledged $10,000 to Holy Family for every year that it is around.

The meeting ended with plans for the committee to meet again and for the letter and proposal to start being drafted.

Schoby said he hopes to find support throughout the city.

“Holy Family is one of the oldest education institutions in the lower Mississippi valley,” he said. “As a historic city, it should save this historic school.”