A formal push is under way to create a new Catholic high school on the East End to pick up where Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School had to leave off when the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre closed it in June.
The Catholic High School of the East End has more than just a website promoting the goal of establishing a new school for students in grades nine through 12. It has an educational model, a business and development plan and about $600,000 in pledges to get it closer to reality — but those organizing the initiative know they have to hurry.
Jack Lillywhite of Southampton, whose son was a Mercy student, said the organization committee is waiting to hear back from Bishop John O. Barres of the Diocese after sending him detailed information.
“We have not heard back as to when we can have a meeting,” Mr. Lillywhite said. “Time is our number-one enemy. We need to get the bishop on board. We can’t establish an independent Catholic school.”
Mr. Lillywhite said the committee — which includes three members of the former Mercy board of directors as well as business, education and religious leaders — hopes to lease the 24-acre Mercy property for $1 a year or a similarly manageable amount.
Referring to the millions of dollars in subsidies the Diocese said it had been giving Mercy when it announced the school’s closure, Mr. Lillywhite added, “They wouldn’t have to make any contribution except to lease us the property. We would not ask the Diocese for any subsidization. We have different plans, financially and business wise, for utilizing that property, like renting it out for activities. A lot of schools around Suffolk County do that to bring in additional revenue.”
The Diocese of Rockville Centre could not be reached for comment this week.
By the committee’s count, there’s a 700-square-mile stretch of eastern Long Island that was left without easy access to a Catholic high school after Mercy High School closed.
The Diocese said in March the high school enrollment was 312; Mr. Lillywhite said the committee is aiming to recruit 250 students by September. Mr. Lillywhite estimates 90 percent of the former Mercy students would return should the Catholic School of the East End open its doors.
He said “they don’t want to take a bus to West Islip or Mineola or Huntington,” where the schools St. John the Baptist, Chaminade and St. Anthony’s are located, respectively.
A Change.org petition launched in March topped 5,000 signatures urging the Diocese to reverse its decision, and a previous fundraising effort collected about $12,000 toward keeping the school open. This time around, Mr. Lillywhite said, the proponents of the new school are getting more serious about soliciting donations, but it has been difficult.
“It’s hard for donors to make any kind of commitment without knowing the school, the plan, has been approved,” he said. “We want to know where the Diocese stands. Are they still interested in utilizing that property and maintaining a Catholic school here on the East End of Long Island?”
Plans call for classes in pre-medicine and pre-law studies, as well as engineering and the arts.
“The mission of the new Catholic High School of the East End will be to encourage students’ spiritual and intellectual growth through a rigorous college preparatory program of academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, fine arts and service,” its mission statement reads. “Upon this foundation, students will be challenged to be their personal best and become who God created them to be.”
Plans also detail how the school will fundraise to maintain its sustainability. More information may be found at eastendcatholic.org.
“We feel very confident that we’re approaching this in a professional, experienced manner,” Mr. Lillywhite said.