North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty to close

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced the closing of two local high schools. Both Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic will be closed at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

“It is with a heavy heart that I make this announcement,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said. “We must make difficult decisions in the prayerful hope for a bright future.”

According to Rigali, the closings come as a result of a comprehensive study of all Archdiocesan schools. The study ended in early September. Today, notices were sent to parents from both schools, and letters have been mailed to every family.

“We looked at trends, capacity and enrollment,” Rigali said

Opened in 1956 in Olney , Cardinal Dougherty High School once had the largest enrollment of any Catholic high school in America. At its height in 1965, more than 6,000 students attended the co-educational school. Although an estimated 40,000 boys and girls have graduated, enrollment has decreased through the years to the now 642 students.

Located on Erie Avenue on the border between Frankford and Kensington, Northeast Catholic High School opened in 1926 as just the fourth Archdiocesan high school in Philadelphia. Famous alumni include “Family Circus” cartoonist Bill Keane, sportscaster Jack Whitaker and All-Pro football player Frank “Bucko” Kilroy. In 1953, enrollment for the all-boys school reached 4,500. According to the Archdiocesan study, enrollment has dropped by 29 percent, and the student body now numbers approximately 551.

“I know the sadness and pain that the students and alumni feel right now,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, a graduate of St. Thomas More High School, which closed its doors in 1976. “These closings strike close to home.”

Dr. Richard McCarron, Secretary for Catholic Education for the Archdiocese, said that freshmen, sophomores and juniors will be guided through the process of transferring to other Catholic high schools for the 2010-2011 school year. Although there is open enrollment for Catholic schools, McCarron estimated that many Northeast Catholic students who are now being taught by the Oblate order of priests, would transfer to another Oblate school, Father Judge, in Holmesburg. Nearby options for girls include St. Hubert in Mayfair and Little Flower in Hunting Park.

“We will develop a plan to welcome students to the new schools,” McCarron said. “We will hold information nights at their schools. We want to come to them and help them through the transition.”

McFadden would not guarantee that the cost savings from the school closings would lower or even maintain the current tuition rate, and no plans have yet been made to sell the two facilities. The issue of possible teacher layoffs was also broached.

“This is a challenge for us,” he said. “We will try to place teachers at other schools, but we cannot guarantee jobs.”

McFadden also stressed that the closings would not diminish the legacies of the two schools.

“Buildings close, but what is not closing is the Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic spirit,” he said. “The legacy is the wonderful education that [students and alumni] received.”

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