Days numbered for 123-year-old Delaware Catholic school

In five weeks, Wilmington’s St. Paul School on North Van Buren Street will close its doors for good.

And as the calendar draws closer to the last day of school, Principal Karen Patterson says the reality of it all is starting to settle in.

“We are striving as a community to stay focused on what our job is and to get to the end. And when we get to the end, when we get to June 16th, our last day of school, there will be a lot of tears and we’re preparing for that.”

Principal Patterson says classrooms in the inner-city Catholic school already look empty because some furniture has been moved from the building and teachers have been asked to remove as many personal items as possible.

Some St. Paul graduates showed up at school Friday for Alumni Day. After morning mass, WHYY spoke with Marisol Rodriguez, who graduated in 1990. She thinks of the St. Paul community as family.

“We were always so close-knit, everybody knew everybody. We also grew up in the same neighborhood… I still have friends from St. Paul’s,” said Rodriguez. “It’s very sad because I do have two children that attend St. Paul’s. My oldest daughter graduates this year and I did want my younger one to graduate also, but unfortunately because of the economics and stuff, it just is not, I guess, going to be possible,” said Rodriguez.

While Rodriguez prefers her children receive a Catholic education, economically, enrolling them in public schools makes more financial sense. A growing trend, according to the Wilmington Diocese.

Enrollment at St. Paul’s stands at 130 students. Principal Patterson says enrollment numbers have been going the wrong way for the past 10 years. The Diocese blames not only the recession, but also a migration from the cities to the suburbs for the school’s closure. The school is also losing $400-thousand from the church, which is helping pay the multi-million dollar settlement with priest abuse victims in February.

Fighting back tears, Principal Patterson tells us only four of the school’s teachers have found new jobs and that 55 students will enroll in Our Lady of Fatima, while the rest will enter the public school system.

“A wonderful place is closing, and we don’t have any control over that, but no matter where we go we will always be a part of each other,” said Patterson.

June 16th is the last day of classes. On the 15th, St. Paul’s will hold a closing mass when school leaders will say their good-bye’s and hand out student awards.

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