By Ryan Gueningsman
LORETTO, MN A long-standing educational institution in Loretto has announced it will be closing its doors at the end of the 2011 school year.
A letter from Fr. John Gallus and trustees Doug Doboszenski and Shaun Irwin was mailed to parishioners May 13, and also e-mailed to people affiliated with the Academy, and Gallus announced the decision at that weekend’s Masses.
“This is obviously a very tough thing for our community, and a very tough decision,” Gallus said. “We’d been experiencing declining enrollment for 10 years now.”
Gallus said, this past winter, school and parish officials conducted a study, looking at various aspects of the school, including things like finances and enrollment.
He said the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul has a formal process for “struggling schools,” and said the threshold is, once a school hits 100 students or less, that’s the tipping point.
The pre-k to eighth-grade academy was among those schools included in the archdiocese’s urgent review process announced last October, according to The Catholic Spirit.
The decision that was made last winter was to keep moving forward and set some goals to try to reach by spring. However, by April, it became clear school and church officials had to set a deadline to make a final decision on the future of the school.
“Without the students to educate, you don’t have a viable share in the market. Then, this spring came, and the response was just not there,” Gallus said. A deadline of May 6 was set, and Gallus said the school fell short of reaching its enrollment goal of 96 students.
At the deadline, 68 students were enrolled for the next school year, according to the archdiocese.
Gallus said the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul was founded in 1867.
“We’ve been educating almost since the beginning,” Gallus said. “I believe the school has had several incarnations.”
He added it was originally a one-room German school.
After sending out the letter and making the announcement at Masses, Gallus said the reactions have been a mixture of sorrow, grief, acceptance, and understanding.
“Especially for those who have been in the community for a long time,” Gallus said. “There are old-timers now saying their grandparents went to the school. It’s important for all of us to appreciate the historical meaning of this and to realize it contributed to the local area by forming many of its citizens for basically 100 years.”
In a parochial school, the parish offers a subsidy to the school.
If the school entered the next academic year with its current numbers, it would not be able to pay its bills, the letter said, adding that the parish, which “carried the financial burden of the school for many years,” could not do so anymore.
“There is only so much we can give and we can’t go beyond that,” Gallus said. “There is a natural sense to all of this that the time has come.”
Gallus said he wants people to remember the parish is still committed to its children.
“If the school goes away, does the commitment go away? No, absolutely not,” Gallus said.
He outlined three ways the parish is going to keep working and engaging its youth, including weekly religious education classes, which are open to everyone to attend and are investments in entire families, he said.
Youth ministry and two annual summer parish camps for children will also continue.
The third way, Gallus said, is a financial commitment in some form.
“The parish will continue to designate a portion of its offertory for the education of its children by using it for tuition vouchers to support parishioners who choose to send their children to Catholic schools,” the letter noted.
Gallus said the school building itself had an addition constructed about 14 years ago, and said the building is very modern and is paid for.
He said the parish will continue to use the facility for parish programs, meetings, and religious education, and Gallus said church officials will investigate the possibility of leasing a portion or all of it for another academic endeavor if it can find a lessor. The academy employed about a dozen people.
Gallus said a “very careful process” was taken to come to the decision to close the school.
“We did not arrive at this decision lightly,” he said. “We’re convinced, at this point there is no alternative.”
Gallus said a very strong effort took place to reach out to the community and parishioners in an attempt to boost enrollment.
“The community fought hard and valiantly to address the challenges, and we didn’t get what we had hoped,” he said. An active approach was taken, including telephoning, the formation of a marketing committee, visits to other schools and parishes, and even looking at starting a day care.
“The most important thing,” Gallus said, is that God will always give us the means to provide for our children. If not with the academy, we have to look to other means.”
The parish had a meeting for school parents May 19 to connect them with area Catholic schools, which had representatives in attendance.
St. Peter’s Catholic School Principal Nicole Belpedio said there have already been three or four students enroll at Delano’s school, and said an open house was set for last week.
“We are praying for them all to hopefully find another Catholic school for their children,” Belpedio said, “whether it’s with us or with another.”
History of Ss. Peter and Paul in Loretto
From the Ss. Peter and Paul website
The Saints Peter and Paul Church Community was founded in 1867.
It has operated a few schools since it was established. The concept of the school has changed or expanded to reflect the needs of the society which supports it and its reliance upon the school for future citizens.
One hundred and thirty years ago, school was in the log church located in the area now called “the old cemetery.”
The school calendar was rather brief as the session only encompassed the spring months.
Later, in the 1890s, the German school was built on the same site upon which the new gym sits.
Children were taught the precepts of their Catholic faith in German, again only during the spring months.
The German school was a one-room school for grades one through eight and had only one teacher.
Moved in 1922 to make room for a new building, this one-room schoolhouse still stands on Loretto Street as part of a residential building.
“Ss. Peter and Paul Parish School” (as chiseled in stone at the front entrance) was built in 1922. The four rooms accommodated grades one through nine. One room was specifically set aside as a chapel. The pastor at that time was Fr. Zoskovski.
The three teaching nuns were Sisters Jerome, Margaret and Bernizia.
The ninth grade only lasted a few years, and there were three classes of grades one through eight up until 1960, when another new building was added.
With this addition, there was one teacher for each of the eight grades. Kindergarten was added to the program in 1979, and a preschool classroom and program were added in 1984.
Unfortunately, financial pressures due to education costs forced Ss. Peter & Paul to discontinue the seventh and eighth grades in 1992.
For three years the school taught preschool through sixth-grade students.
Changes started happening again in 1994, with the arrival of Fr. Jerry Rohrer as pastor.
He led the parishioners to fulfill their vision of the new building.
The school structure built in 1922 was razed, and a new parish center took its place.
Included in the new development were the following: preschool, kindergarten, seventh and eighth grade classrooms, a science and computer lab, library, dining hall, gymnasium, and new administrative offices and teachers’ lounge.
The school offered education to students in preschool through eighth grade and its name had been changed to “The Academy of Saints Peter and Paul.”