Clock ticking for parochial schools on diocese chopping block

It was a chilly holiday for parents and students at eight Bronx parochial schools, with the clock ticking on them to come up with financial plans to save themselves.

With a January 3 deadline looming to come up with a financial plan to raise nearly $1 million over the next three years, parents at one school have recruited Senator Gustavo Rivera to help join their plight.

He and about a dozen parents rallied outside of Our Lady of Mercy in Fordham on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

The senator wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of New York requesting it show some Christian charity and give the school more time to come up with a plan to raise the money it needs to stay open.

But Rivera said the diocese denied his request for a deadline extension. It doesn’t mean the school and parents will give up.

“This is not the only school in my district that is in danger of closing – I have four in my district,” he said. “It is extremely disconcerting when you have a school that serves an overwhelming Latino and African-American community and that is certainly in serious need in this area.”

The other Bronx parochial schools at-risk for closure are: Holy Spirit elementary school in Morris Heights, Our Lady of Angels school in Kingsbridge, St. Jerome school in Mott Haven, St. Anthony’s School in Wakefield, St. Mary’s Elementary School in Williamsbridge, St. Mary Star of the Sea school on City Island and Blessed Sacrament in Soundview, the alma mater of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The schools were notified of their impending closures by the diocese in November. Diocesean officials said the next step will be to have pastors and principals of the at-risk elementary schools meet with the local board or committee to discuss the factors that led the schools being selected and the next steps to be taken.

Parents from the at-risk schools have been struggling to come up with ideas, including setting up fundraisers, emergency Pay Pal accounts and holding rallies, to help raise funds and draw attention to their struggle.

Soraya Alvarez said her daughter graduated from Our Lady of Mercy in 2000, and went on to graduate college and receive her masters. Now she is desperate to keep the school open for her grandson, now in first grade there.

“It makes me really sad to know that it will be closing,” she said. “What can we do? It’s almost like we are being set up for failure.”

Jose Cornelio, who has two sons attending the school, said he thinks so highly of the school he drives his sons there from Yonkers.

“I am a product of the Catholic school myself,” Cornelio said. “It’s not right what they are doing. These children are in need of a good education.”

One of Elma Defreitas’ daughters graduated from Our Lady of Mercy, and another is now in third grade there.

“It’s a tradition in our family to go here,” she said. “When other parents in the neighborhood ask me where to send their kids, I tell them here. The people that work here are like family. I don’t want to send my daughter to public school, I purposefully chose not to. If the school winds up closing I will send my daughter to the Carribean to finish her education.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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