In little more than two months, St. Raphael School in Long Island City, Queens, will close, and a new chapter will begin for the 160 students, from nursery school to eighth grade, who must find alternatives, as well as for the neighborhood that the school has served for the past half century.
“If your business isn't viable and you have no other sources of income, you have to close,” said Stefanie Gutierrez, press secretary for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which covers Kings and Queens counties. St. Raphael will just become one of the latest victims of falling enrollments and rising costs, that in its own case was expected to leave it with a $200,000 deficit this year, despite the diocese and parents all chipping in.
The picture is much the same at Corpus Christi School in nearby Woodside, which will also close its doors in June, as it was for two other parochial schools that have closed in the area in the past decade.
In fact, the school office set up open houses at other parochial schools in Long Island City, Astoria, Maspeth and Woodside, and helped to get St. Raphael's students priority for enrollment. But with fewer classrooms for the same number of students, some of the more popular schools already have waiting lists.
All of the students, however, will lose the opportunity to attend schools in their own neighborhoods. But the diocese insists it has no choice in the face of the thinning ranks of Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens—currently about 1.4 million, down 200,000 in just the past 10 years, as many Irish, Italian and Eastern European families have decamped for the suburbs.
“There's definitely been a demographic shift, but there's still a demand for Catholic education,” said Ms. Gutierrez. She noted, for example, recent waves of Catholic immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Many of them, however, are not able to afford tuitions that have risen steeply in recent years, as the priests and nuns have been replaced at the blackboard by lay teachers who require higher salaries and better benefits.
In the meantime, we have this: Queens kindergarten waiting lists up at zoned schools