Nancy Hallock knows all too well what it’s like when a Catholic school closes: a community of faith loses a piece of its heart. She was a first-grade teacher at Stella Maris when it closed its doors in 2011, and now, her daughter Abby Hallock, a student at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, will experience the same thing when that school closes its doors in June.
“My heart breaks for the students and the staff who are all losing their school family and jobs,” Ms. Hallock said Wednesday.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre announced on March 12 its decision to close Mercy and offer automatic enrollment for its students to St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. The Diocese is also consolidating St. Isidore School in Riverhead and Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue into the St. John Paul II Regional School, which will be located at the St. Isidore campus and will serve nursery, elementary and middle school children only. According to the Diocese, changes come amid what it said was declining enrollment, which would have required what it said would be additional, unsustainable financial subsidies.
In a letter to students and their families, Bishop John O. Barres said the changes are “heartbreaking” and recognized the “pain and disruption” they would cause.
“Our goal is that these measures will strengthen Catholic schools on Long Island,” Bishop Barres said. “The sad truth is that it has become increasingly unfeasible to maintain these schools financially. As is often the case in these situations, the only real course of action is to combine our resources in new and creative ways so that we can provide a more robust and compelling educational experience across the entire system, in keeping with our mission to serve the people of Long Island.”
But Ms. Hallock said she believed the Diocese’s decision would not serve the children and families of the East End because the next closest high school is so far away. St. John the Baptist is more than 60 miles from Sag Harbor.
“For students from the East End, as far east as Montauk, that is a very difficult decision to make,” Ms. Hallock said. “The family logistical commitment for transportation is onerous and expensive. Essentially the opportunity for a Catholic education is being removed for students on the East End and that is a true loss.”
Abby is one of five students living within the Sag Harbor School District who attend Mercy. The Bridgehampton School District also has five students attending Mercy, plus two who attend St. Isidore.
“I think they are really in a state of shock so at this point they have not reached out to myself or the principals” about plans to possibly come to Pierson Middle-High School, Sag Harbor School District superintendent Katy Graves said Tuesday.
A petition to save the school is circulating on Change.org and has collected more than 5,400 signatures. “We deserve a second chance, the chance we never got to prove to our Diocese that we are not just some business but a home,” the petition reads. “Our dedicated teachers, faculty, and students deserve more. The East End of Long Island needs a Catholic high school and Mercy is the only one.”
Ms. Hallock said Abby, a ninth grader, had only just transferred to Mercy in November. She called it “a wonderful fit” for her daughter, and said they had no idea there was a possibility the school would be closing.
“At Mercy, Abby found the students and staff to be kind and welcoming and she enjoyed being able to more fully embrace her Catholic faith and sense of service,” Ms. Hallock said. “Abby has always enjoyed volunteering in the community and being involved in the Catholic church, serving as an altar server and in the choir at St. Andrew Church, so joining a school that embodied those values was very comforting. The enforcement of clear and consistent expectations for academics and behavior in the classrooms, hallways and cafeteria removed a lot of stress for Abby. It’s not easy being a teenager in today’s world.”