By LISA CAPOBIANCO
After experiencing a downturn in enrollment in recent years, St. Anthony School, which has been a staple in the West End for over 75 years, will close at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Last Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Hartford announced the closing, which was a decision made after a comprehensive process over the summer involving parish school pastors from St. Anthony, St. Matthew, St. Joseph, and the Office of Catholic Schools, as well as other stakeholders. According to a press release from the Archdiocese, this process resulted in a new elementary school model for Bristol’s Catholic schools—one that “responds to changing demographics and challenging financial trends seen elsewhere in Connecticut public and private schools.”
Under this new model, one board will support both St. Joseph and St. Matthew schools, which includes members of the Bristol Deanery parishes, the release said. Both schools will maintain an identical tuition and fee structure, sharing resources, such as faculty and programming.
St. Anthony School Principal Dr. Gene Nocera will be an active board member in helping the transition of families, culture and school traditions, the release said. The distinct academic and spiritual traditions of St. Anthony’s will be embedded into the culture of St. Matthew and St. Joseph Schools. For two consecutive years, the Catholic School Support Program will offer a $500 tuition scholarship to current St. Anthony students who transfer to either St. Matthew or St. Joseph, the release said. In addition, a $500 tuition scholarship from St. Matthew and St. Joseph Parishes will be awarded for two consecutive years to current St. Anthony students who transfer to St. Matthew or St. Joseph schools. Meanwhile, the Office of Catholic Schools will help St. Anthony faculty seek employment in other Catholic schools.
In preparation for the school closing, a meeting with parents took place this week to discuss the transitions to other schools.
“Whatever the families need, we’ll be there to help them with this,” said Nocera, adding that the school will close in an ‘excellent way’. “We don’t want this closing to dampen their spirits about their child’s future.”
To date, 96 students are enrolled at St. Anthony School, down from 141 in 2011-12. Data from the Archdiocese shows that St. Anthony School is not alone in its declining enrollment. St. Joseph School declined from 251 to 152 during the same period, and St. Matthew enrollment fell from 255 to 205.
The Archdiocese reported in the release a 74 percent decrease in Catholic school enrollment since 1965, as there was nearly four times more students (54,018) 50 years ago.
Despite the sadness and disappointment, the St. Anthony School community hopes the closing will not take away any school pride.
“We realize that the support of St. Anthony School has required a deep commitment and great sacrifice on the part of parishioners, faculty, parents and graduates,” said St. Anthony School in a Facebook post. “This decision should not diminish the pride the community has had in the school for its academic excellence, its strong sense of community, or its success fostering moral values in our children.”
Located on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Church, St. Anthony School serves students from pre-kindergarten to grade eight, and is reaccredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the school, which has been known for its rich traditions and active community involvement. For Nocera, who has worked at St. Anthony for the past six years, so many memories come to mind when looking back on his time at the school.
“It is truly a community school that we’re very proud of,” said Nocera, noting the wonderful climate of the school.
One aspect of the school Nocera feels proud of is the service projects students took part in, such as helping citizens in Haiti after an earthquake hit in 2010 as well as raising money and collecting items for St. Gerard’s Center for Life in Hartford.
Nocera also noted the number of events, from the pasta dinners that bring a crowd every third Thursday of the month to the annual Christmas concert at the church to the annual four-day Italian Festival. St. Anthony also has participated in the annual Mum Festival Parade, taking home different awards for its float.
“It’s an incredible place,” said Nocera, adding how the students have performed well academically.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO